R | 83min | 2015 | USA | Levan Gabriadze
Synopsis: On the one-year anniversary of the death of a fellow classmate, six friends are forced to remain online and answer to her spirit.
Review: Horror fans will find better acting and more thrills in an episode of ABC’s Pretty Little Liars.
Conceptually Unfriended has a lot to offer. Certainly the fact that it is Facebook, the much maligned but ultimately still popular social networking platform, that the demonic spirit elects to utilize to reek havoc has a certain tongue in cheek appeal. But with performances better suited for a student film and repetitive dialogue, Unfriended never seems to get off the ground. In fact, the two characters who show the most promise, Val and Jess, are the ones first killed off. Still, these criticisms could have been overcome if not for the film’s central flaw: it simply isn’t scary.
Action wise, Unfriended is deliberately self-contained with the characters remaining in one location throughout the film. Travel, as befitting a film indicting technology, occurs as characters traverse across the interwebs toggling from site to site in an effort to locate answers and escape their growing fears. That the Internet ultimately offers no answers to their crisis is an interesting comment on our cultural expectation to have reliable information delivered upon demand. Director Levan Gabriadze deserves credit for building a frenetic sort of energy to these scenes through little more than mouse clicks. And yet, it is this very attempt to draw horror from the technologies audiences use everyday that ultimately does little to inspire any real sense of dread.
Given the film’s penchant for closeup, confessional shots meant to convey anguish, comparisons to The Blair With Project are inevitable. If the 1999 cinematic juggernaut was a comment on technology’s cultural mediation but ultimate inability to capture true horror (the found footage records everything but the witch), then Unfriended is the inevitable result of that technology becoming the tool of the repressed. Central to each narrative is a band of students who display technological acumen that ultimately fails to help them overcome the terror to which they are subjected. Yet, whereas the characters in The Blair Witch Project use their cameras a means of intentional documentation of their fear, Unfriended takes this power out of the hands of the characters and returns it to the repressed evil stalking them. Being unable to control their own webcams and microphones, Unfriended’s characters are rendered impotent by the very technology they believe will be their salvation. From Ken’s shock that his encryption software failed to eradicate the threat to Blaire’s difficulty in getting anyone online to respond to her desperate pleas, technology does little to provide the answers the characters so desperately seek. Instead, it is the relatively old fashioned game of “I Never” that peels back the layers of crimes committed by each character and shows that the real horror resides not in the demonic spirit, but in the five friends.
In terms of execution, Unfriended fails to deliver largely because it offers neither a compelling villain nor disturbing mythology. That Laura fails to be a looming presence of evil does make sense given the reveal in the film’s final moments. She may be who is controlling the action but she isn’t the true source of evil. Instead a concept rather than a person occupies that position. The technologically mediated bullying to which Laura is subjected is devastating but it isn’t shocking. One need only turn on the evening news to hear similar stories. With no meta commentary to indicate that this is a point being purposely made by the film, I can only assume that audiences are expected to be horrified by what happened to Laura and that the film believes this revelation is enough of a horrific payoff. To my mind, this is an incorrect assumption given that frequent media exposure to these occurrences can’t help but neuter audience outrage to a degree. Consequently, Unfriended becomes a cautionary tale more at home on scripted television than in the annals of cinematic horror.
See what Dawn has to say about Unfriended!