You may never respond to a Skype call the same way again after watching Unfriended, a twisted take on the found footage genre that consists entirely of footage of five teens communicating online. Shot in an 85 minute-long take according to the film’s writer, Nelson Greaves, Unfriended may not be the scariest movie you’ll see this year, but at least it forges a new path in telling an anti-bullying story aimed at today’s computer-addicted, social media-using teens.
The film kicks off with Blaire (Shelley Hennig) and Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm) getting hot and bothered during a sex chat. Why there’s a kitchen knife involved in this sex play is never explained, but that’s not important…yet. They’re interrupted by their BFFs who interrupt their Skype session, making Blaire and Mitch scramble for their clothing. Joining the chat are Ken (Jacob Wysocki), the stoner who serves as the computer programming expert of the group; Adam (Will Peltz), the hunky drunk one of the bunch who just happens to have a gun nearby; and Jess (Renee Olstead), the party girl who has a rep for sleeping around. When their private Skype session is invaded by an uninvited person, all of their attempts to disconnect the unknown presence fail. Soon, the mystery guest reveals herself to be Laura (Heather Sossaman), their dead friend who is apparently not resting in peace.
After a disgusting video of Laura at a party was posted to YouTube, the embarrassment and humiliation was too much and she took a gun to school and killed herself. The video of her death also exists online at LiveLeak, and this Skype chat is taking place on the one year anniversary of her suicide. At first, the friends believe someone has hacked Laura’s account and is screwing with them. But when they find they have no control over their computer screens (photos are posted to Facebook pages by someone other than the owner of the page), and when the online threats turn into actual acts of violence (remember that knife from the sex chat?), they begin to turn on each and confess to deep, dark secrets.
Never once does the movie cheat and show footage not shot from the perspective of a computer screen, and every application used during the film is easily recognizable (Skype, Facebook, Google, Chat Roulette, etc). And while the premise of being a voyeur to a private chat session sounds gimmicky, Unfriended actually smartly uses an innovative method to connect with a generation who’ve grown up online. The premise of a dead bullied girl haunting her supposed friends one year after her death and taking out her vengeance via the use of their keyboards isn’t (hopefully) relatable, the fact teens are victims of cyberbullying and the ability to post the most embarrassingly personal moments of a person’s life online with just a few clicks of a keyboard most definitely is all too real.
Although the story unfolds from Blaire’s point of view and the film focuses on her computer screen to play out the story, the supporting characters are surprisingly well developed considering we only see them in little boxes as they chat online.
Unfriended effectively uses the instant ability to speak without first filtering your thoughts on social media and the lasting damage caused by one senseless statement or reputation-killing video, upping the ante and spinning it into a horror film that could be this generation’s Blair Witch Project. If so, that means we’ll soon be seeing a flood of copycats that use the same gimmick. Maybe not necessarily in the horror genre, but if Unfriended succeeds at the box office, you can bet there will be multiple films hitting theaters, OnDemand or straight-to-DVD that mimic the format. Fortunately for Unfriended, Nelson Greaves, director Levan Gabriadze, and producer Timur Bekmambetov (who came up with the original idea for the film) got there first and did so while creating a film that is refreshingly original, smartly written and shot, and features a talented group of young actors completely committed to this cyber tale. It make lack many real scares, but it is a solid thriller that’s timely and well told.
MPAA rating: R for violent content, pervasive language, some sexuality, and drug and alcohol use – all involving teens.
Running time: 85 minutes
Release date: April 17, 2015
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