Unfriended, the 2015 cyber-bulling horror film written by Nelson Greaves and directed by Levan Gabriadze could be called a version of Paranormal Activity on a laptop. Indeed the film works best when viewed, via stream, download or DVD on a laptop, since almost all of the action takes place on a computer screen/monitor via the auspices of Skype.
To be fair, the film really is nothing like the 2007 lo/no budget horror that spawned a multimillion dollar franchise, except for similarity in formula. Take a film that has relative unknowns, a small budget and aim it at a certain market. Then hype the film via the Internet using the film’s plot line as an advertising tool to increase viewership. The end result is a $1 million production that makes, to date, well over $31 million.
In terms of Hollywood’s definition of success, this film is, hands-down a runaway success. At least two of the cast are alumni from the world of TV soaps and the rest of the cast, who have varying amounts of credits, are primarily actors from television. Not that this is a bad thing, but if one is making a variation of a found footage horror, fresh faces do feel “fresher” on the big screen if they are from TV.
Ostensibly the film is about bullying, in specific cyber-bullying. This is not a new topic, back in 2010, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Imogen Poots were in the Hideo Nakata (The Ring, Dark Water) film about cyber-bullying in chatrooms, aptly titled, Chatroom. Unlike Unfriended, however, Nakata’s film was too abstract for many to understand and it got panned by critics.
Unfriended, the film that had its name changed three times, Offline, then Cybernatural and finally Unfriended, is all about bullying through a variety of means, YouTube, Instagram, Skype and Facebook. The film’s “good girl” Blaire (Shelley Hennig) is seen at the start of the movie Skyping her boyfriend Mitch, aka Mitchie (Moses Storm) and it is clear that they have not entered that all important sexual phase of their relationship.
Although just before chatting with her boyfriend, Blaire watches the footage of Laura Barnes shooting herself in the local school playground. Barnes (Heather Sossaman) was driven to kill herself because of a video uploaded to YouTube where she gets drunk and sh*ts herself.
As Blaire talks to Mitch, their friends get online and they all have a conference call. There is an uninvited Skype caller and after several attempts to rid themselves of this unknown caller, they decide it is a glitch and continue. The film then turns deadly as one of the girls, Val kills herself, apparently while still on Skype, and things escalate.
The premise of Unfriended is pretty original (Chatroom aside), the ghost of a bullied girl systematically punishing her antagonists. However, Barnes herself was a bully who was picking on Val when the video of her covered in feces was made. As the film progresses we discover that none of these teenagers is “without sin.” Each of these kids is vain, self absorbed, shallow and lack any real empathy.
Watching the events from the viewpoint of Blaire’s screen we get a glimpse of a girl who cannot decide how to answer any accusations. She will change her responses several times vacillating between bravado, trying to be politically correct or typing something that she thinks her accuser wants to hear. Ultimately, however, she does opt for the truth which could make her the “good girl” when compared to the others.
Not having seen this film at the cinema it is hard to guess how this went over. Judging by the box office figures (its opening weekend pulled in over $16 million) it did quite well. Watching this on a laptop made the film pretty impressive. Granted, the action is fairly claustrophobic as it never leaves Blaire’s bedroom except via videos taken in other places or the other’s Skype windows.. Each of these incriminating films or windows are seen from Blaire’s POV.
There is an issue of believability, in that common sense would have dictated that the failure to get rid of the unknown caller should have resulted in an end to the conference call. Having said that, if the kids had taken that option there would have been no film. The fact that they did attempt to lose their “troll” helped the suspension of disbelief required to keep the film moving along.
The only question is why they did not include Skype in the title as this was such a huge presence in the plot. Presumably the company would not welcome such a direct reference without some sort of recompense while using the application in the film amounts to so much free publicity.
Sadly, as the characters go through their 10 Little Indian type exits we don’t care. All have “little” sins; Barnes’ ghost or vengeful spirit says via the IM screen that they all have hidden sins and they do. So much so that it is amazing that these teenagers have any friends to bully at all, as each of the victims have one thing in common, they are not good people.
Each character, even “good girl” Blaire, lies, cheats and steals from the others. Blaire turns out to be anything but a good girl, but then none of her social circle are either. In the end, we simply do not care that these vacuous teenagers die; with no empathy comes no sympathy. We cannot understand these self centered young people whose lack of care for one another makes it hard to like any of them. Sure they go through the motions of trying to save one another, but we do not believe their sincerity.
Still for all this lack of caring the film works to a huge degree. The plot of a bully victim bullying their bullies from the grave, using cyberspace, is unsettling and kind of cool. Sure we do not care about any of these shallow intensive people but…
“Dude, they were killed through Skype!”
However you slice it, this “slasher” type film (that really is not) entertains, all the more so if viewed on a laptop or computer screen. The amount of times that I found myself reaching for the mousepad to click on the screen proved that the film carried pretty well the way it was presented.
A solid 3.5 out of 5 stars. 1.5 were lost just because none of the characters were likable and the “victim” was a bully herself. Unfriended is available on iTunes to rent or to buy.