April 17, 2015
Courtney Halverson as: Matt
Shelley Hennig as: Blaire
Renee Olstead as: Jess
Will Peltz as: Adam
Heather Sossaman as: Laura
Moses Jacob Storm as: Mitch
High school student Blaire (Shelley Henning) is on her computer Skyping with her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm). She is teasing him unbuttoning her blouse while he jokingly “threatens” her while holding a knife out on her. Suddenly, they are interrupted by their friends Jess (Renee Olstead), Ken (Jacob Wycoski), and Adam (Will Peltz)… and a fourth person with a generic icon has tagged along with them on the Sykpe chat. They can’t figure out who this person actually is or block them. They quickly decide to ask their other friend, who many of them seem to dislike, Val (Courtney Halverson) to also join in on the chat. It soon becomes very clear that the mysterious stranger is not any of them.
Could it be Laura (Heather Sossaman), then, who committed suicide after a horrible and embarrassing video of her was uploaded on to YouTube anonymously? Could it be that she has come back from the dead to exact vengeance on them? One thing is for sure, this person knows a lot about each of them, has complete control over the internet and their computers, and isn’t allowing them to leave, log off, or shut it off. And, it eventually leads to some very bloody revenge exacted on them.
Right off the bat Unfriended is one of the best “found footage” films in the sub-genre in the years. It far surpassed my expectations and then some. By making it Internet-based it already opens up a fresh take on this much worn out sub-genre. While there are other films that have had a similar idea used to tell a story, including the recent thriller Open Windows; this movie manages to do it in an infinitely better manner.
I love that the story is told in complete real-time. It has a very real world feel in how the story is handled and done. Yes, the supernatural element is, of course, unbelievable, but it’s put in such a context that in this story’s framing its completely believable. The tension builds and builds until it becomes unbearable. It draws you into its web (pun unintended) and holds your interest throughout. Not once did I look at my watch, which these days is unfortunately a rarity for me when watching a new movie. I simply couldn’t take my eyes off of it.
Getting back to what makes it look and feel so believable is how the movie flawlessly captures online/social media, especially the way teens talk and interact with each other online. Director Levan Gabriaze perfectly captures the use of cyber technology to make you feel like you are a third and helpless eyewitness to what is occurring to these characters. The open windows, both of capturing Facebook messaging, YouTube, Gmail, Skyping, etc manage to be alternately funny (sometimes darkly so), horrific, and/or scary. This really manages to play with you and get the reaction that the story needs accordingly and perfectly.
I also appreciated the fact that this movie is rated R, unlike so many other teen horror films are these days. Thanks to this the teen characters are allowed to talk and communicate with each other the way that they would in real life, liking dropping “F” bombs, for example. It also gives the movie leeway to be provocative, and most of all, shocking. As such, the brief but graphic violence that the movie contains has it that extra punch.
Of course, one needs to complement the quality script by Nelson Greaves. It is perfect in its use of Internet lingo which again perfectly captures the way young people in particular teens talk and interact with each other. If you have spent enough time online and seen the manner in which they talk to each other, this will be instantly recognizable to you. I also very much liked that the character of Blair would type something, then highlight it, delete it, and end up typing and sending something else instead, as she reconsidered what she was going to say. I think, again, this is very believable and something a lot of us actually do online.
What is additionally captivating about this movie is the way that it manages to play with your emotions. You fear for these teens, but then, at the same time, as you begin to find out how awful it is what they did to Laura, you want them to die, as well. As the truth rears its ugly head, and we learn the characters’ collective sins; it makes our villain in some ways the de facto hero or perhaps antihero of the story. The plot here is also perfectly timely and very important in its representation of the reprehensible acts and ultimate consequences of bullying, particularly in the form of cyber-bullying.
Of course, you need a great cast to support the story. It stars a cast of young unknowns, who at least look like teenagers, and who give performances that range from good to pitch perfect. They help to further cement the believability of the plot. At front and center is pretty lead Shelley Henning as Blair and Renee Olstead as blonde cutie Jess, both of whom really reach down deep inside of themselves to pull off some really great ranges of emotions.
If there is one flaw in the film, it’s its ‘overuse of jump scares’. At least some, if not most, of them have an actual payoff. This is unlike other recent horror films where said jump scares are false and lead to or come from nothing. But, regardless of that, they are still a bit on the annoying side and somewhat overdone.
Unfriended is intense, smart, fun, timely in its message, and emotionally challenging. It captures its cyber world to a degree so very few movies, if any, like it can. To put it quite bluntly, I questioned if this movie would live up to its hype. In short, it most certainly does. It doesn’t create anything particularly new in the horror genre. What it does do is perfect that which has been before.