Generic Unfriended Afraid to Take Risks
While video chatting with her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Storm) and friends Jess (Renee Olstead), Adam (Will Peltz), Ken (Jacob Wysocki) and Val (Courtney Halverson), High School Senior Blaire (Shelley Hennig) begins receiving strange Facebook messages from someone claiming to be Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman). This is more than a little peculiar because today is the one year anniversary of the teenager’s suicide, so the fact she’s suddenly being so chummy with her former BFF isn’t just impossible, it’s downright creepy.
It gets worse. This stranger claiming to be Laura has intruded on the company’s video chat, eschewing an ultimatum that, if the hang up, if they disconnect, if they attempt to sever the digital connection, they will subsequently die. You see, this specter wants to play a game, a deadly serious contest of truth or consequences, wanting this collection of chums to reveal secrets about themselves they don’t want the others to know. As the night progresses Blaire begins to realize it’s no hacker out to get revenge, Laura’s return from the grave a supernatural certainty, the former bullies suddenly finding themselves on the other side of the table.
Or, in this case, the computer screen. The teen-centered thriller Unfriended takes place entirely upon Blaire’s laptop, and it’s through her camera, Skype connection, Facebook page and other internet social network havens that all of the supposedly terrifying events play themselves out upon. Calling to mind last year’s no-budget horror sensation The Den, director Leo Gabriadze and screenwriter Nelson Greaves have done a moderately decent job setting up their premise and world, making what is happening to Blaire and her friends feel far more believable than by any rights it probably should. It moves at a decent clip, mixing up conversations between the principles, Messenger conversations between the heroine and others as well as various internet searches with relative ease. As silly as all this might be it’s explored rather nicely, the filmmakers managing to generate a palpable sense of dread and suspense right from the start.
But, unlike the far superior The Den (which, incidentally, didn’t have to succumb to supernatural mumbo jumbo in order to get insidiously underneath the viewer’s skin), Unfriended proves to not have the strength of its own convictions, and while Gabriadze and Greaves’ exploration of online teen bullying is frank and unsettling they’re so caught up in engaging in various horror clichés and tropes they never allow the inherent terror of the scenario to take proper root. Additionally, other than Blaire (Hennig gives a subtly heartbreaking, beautifully nuanced performance that’s surprising considering the subject matter and found footage nature of the storytelling), the characters under assault aren’t particularly interesting, the only real mystery being in which order they are going to die and how it is going to happen.
There are some nice touches, and I like how Blaire navigates through all her various social media programs and platforms as she tries to put the pieces of this puzzle into some semblance of order. I also appreciated that the messages sent via text, Facebook and Messenger didn’t always make a lot of sense, that the heroine was prone to type before fully fleshing out a thought leading to incomplete exclamations, misspellings and cut-paste-delete-try again redo’s common to the online world. It should also be stated that a few of the deaths are rather startling, achieving the proper shock and awe the filmmakers are going out of their way to achieve.
Overall, though, the movie never wants to be anything more than a standard B-grade thriller, content to build to a tired, unsurprisingly bleak final image that’s so forgone I could have described it in minute detail before the film itself had even started. Which, it must be stated, sucks because, for a brief second there, I kind of thought Gabriadze and Greaves were going to go the more profound, deeply disquieting route and fade to black in a way that effected Blaire’s world in ways she’d be having to deal with for the remainder of her life, no matter how short or long that might have ended up proving to be.
In fact, they had the opportunity to, not only shock the bejesus out of their audience, but also make a definite, tragically heartbreaking statement about the full consequences of online teen bullying. But Unfriended doesn’t go there, instead choosing the easier, more generic supernatural route, and as such becomes simple to disconnect from and, in the long run, even easier to forget.
Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 2 out of 4