R | 83min | 2015 | USA | Levan Gabriadze
Unfriended takes a staple of the horror tradition—teens getting killed one at a time—and gives it an innovative twist: the entire film is “set” (if that’s the right word) on the desktop of the main character, Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig). Through the course of the film, Blaire skypes with her boyfriend and friends, messages on Facebook, watches YouTube videos, and Googles a few things. The film immerses us in a wholly cyber world in which people connect entirely through social media.
Some have called Unfriended the Scream (1996) of the current generation, and in some ways it is. (Not least, the stalker of Unfriended, like Ghostface, wants to “play a game.”) Scream spoke to a generation of teens who rented videos and watched TV—a generation for whom a cell phone was still a strange thing. The generation of Unfriended lives online. One thing the film makes stunningly clear is how much the world has changed in the last two decades.
What sets the narrative of Unfriended going is the anniversary of the death of Blaire’s friend, Laura Barnes. After someone posted a video on YouTube of Laura drunk and passed out, she was relentlessly harassed online and ended up shooting herself (a video of which is also on YouTube). So often the horrible thing that happens to drunk and unconscious women is rape, but here the dark truth that gets revealed is that Laura soiled herself—and the world saw the sordid footage. There’s no obvious crime here (no rapist), only the banal, unthinking depravity of the “friends” who shot the video, put it online, and joined in the chorus of bullies who seemed to think Laura was a “monster,” and should die, for an entirely natural accident.
The film progresses as you might imagine: the friends are stalked on Skype and try to get rid of the intruder, who seems to be the “ghost” of Laura Barnes herself (at least, it’s using Laura’s Facebook account). They can’t—and bad things happen to them. There’s a twist at the end that serves to drive home what, to me, is the true horror of this film—the teens themselves.
While it’s true that a staple of the horror genre, ever since Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980), is the dispensable, disposable teen, the teens of Unfriended take this convention to new levels. They lie, abuse and betray each other, and are absolutely without morality, and I’m still struggling to figure out if they are intended to be vapidly evil (“evil” is really too strong, too active of a word)—or if we’re supposed to think they’re just run-of-the-mill “normal” teens. Will teens identify with Blaire and her friends, victims of Laura Barnes’s revenge—or will they recognize their mundane iniquity? Does the film recognize it? Does Unfriended set its characters up for judgment—or does it accept that they are “regular” people? Who sees the real “monster” here?
In the end, despite the supposedly shockingly scene of Ken (Jacob Wysocki) jamming his hand into a blender, what happens to the teens in Unfriended is much less frightening than what they have done. Somewhere along the way, they lost themselves—perhaps to the world of mediated reality they clearly live and breathe in. To the extent that the film is aware that this utter moral vacuum is what’s frightening, Unfriended is a good, albeit depressing, film. If it’s not aware, that may be even more frightening.
See what Elizabeth has to say about Unfriended!