UNFRIENDED‘s (2015) story happens on the night of Laura Barns’ death anniversary. Exactly a year ago, Laura killed herself after a constant video abuse she received from a YouTube video. Tonight, Blaire Lily, together with her boyfriend Mitch, goes on a Skype group call with her friends for their usual evening chat. Unknown to them, Laura’s curse returns to settle the scores.
UNFRIENDED tries to tell a story through the run-of-the-mill found-footage genre. In an era of over-the-top horror films seen through a shaky, handheld camera lens, this genre has already proven its worth since THE CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999). However, those days have long been gone. Soon enough, the genre characters have become too overly developed, their stories too contrived leaving no room for further exposition. Now that fans already know that the character/s who held the camera had long since died, these films had lost its surprising factor. UNFRIENDED, however, thrives on a format twist. Since the camera is panned on Blaire’s screencast, the viewers get to see online movements and a lot of (mouse) hovering that are limiting, yet so familiar. This time, only get see what we want to see. Yes, there is still that cinematic focus, but its form provides a more liberating viewing experience for its audience.
The film brings together a group of young actors that wonderfully executes a well choreographed string of plot points. Shelley Hennig, as Blaire Lily, leads the entire cast to a reasonably slow unfolding of online horror. Worthy to note is Will Peltz. As Adam Sewell, Peltz is a self-absorbed drunk who has as many secrets as everyone else. Moses Jacob Storm as Mitch Roussel is the typical high school cutie and Jacob Wysocki is the dandy, though sometimes serious, group clown.
Director Levan Gabraidze makes use of an everyday routine we are all so familiar with. Even through the limiting borders of a desktop screen, Gabraidze orchestrates the development of his characters with modulated rhythm and an almost-perfect timing in a claustrophobic milieu. What makes this film quite compelling is how we review the silences on computer screens. The film thrives on these silences to establish a deep focus on whatever is happening; one that we normally do whenever we type, chat, and think. In UNFRIENDED, the silences could be chilling and elaborately biting, that even a sudden Skype ring could make you jump.
There is a slight downfall, though. UNFRIENDED, like everything else, delves on an all too familiar formula, which makes it easily predictable. In terms of plot structure, there is nothing new. I think that directors and writers should start looking at how we could make this genre more unconventional than just a simple chill and thrill. We know that Laura will return. We’ll wait at how they all die. We’ll look forward at the very last scene and see how it differs from the other films that came with the same form. If mainstream horror continues to take the same usual route, it will soon become an understandable device for another SCARY MOVIE redux.
But what makes this film quite extraordinary is we get to see ourselves on screen. The close up screencast, which practically covers the entire movie, somewhat gives us that hidden compulsion in all of us to see what other people are doing while they’re online. Screenwriter Kiel Kimsey also explores the duality of our minds whenever we balance our online language, play with its (language) forms but still get understood.
At one point, as Laura starts with her killing spree, I asked myself why don’t they just pull the plug and go on with their lives? As I stepped out of the cinema, I realized that that’s the greatest tragedy in its theme: We are dependently addicted to our technologies, and sadly for us, these addictions are our funerals.
UNFRIENDED thrives on a very familiar formula, and an almost tiring genre, but its chosen format makes it quite unconventionally compelling. In a generation where social networks rule our casual lives, we get to see the ugly side of our selfies.
3.5 STARS OUT OF 5