While I could start this review by discussing in detail how important the Internet and technology have become to us, I’m not going to. We all get it. We all know how much we rely on the net, and we all know very well how the younger generation uses and abuses it. So, a horror movie based around the web and cyber-bullying is not far-fetched at all; however, when you tell the entire film from a character’s computer screen, the situation becomes a lot less scary and extremely boring. Unfriended is a horror movie that sounded brilliant on paper but it ultimately did not translate well to the screen.
Directed by Levan Gabriadze and produced by Blumhouse Productions, Unfriended opens with a character browsing online for the suicide video of former classmate, Laura Barns. Her morbid web-surfing is interrupted when she gets a Skype call from her boyfriend, Mitch, and he tempts her to show him some skin via webcam. The too-long game of cat and mouse between the pair is disrupted when four more friends jump on the call. They quickly realize that an additional (unknown) member has joined their party, and they can’t get rid of him or her. Eventually it is revealed that the mystery person is writing from Laura Barns’ account. Things continue to get even crazier from there.The singular setting used in Unfriended could have worked, but there are plenty of reasons why it didn’t. Yes, the idea is unique and hasn’t been done to death. But there’s a reason we aren’t seeing more films like this being made. And it has everything to do with the fact that the singular setting setup is hard to successfully pull off. People do spend a large portion of their lives in front of a computer screen, and most of their actions online are about as exciting as watching paint dry. So, if you want your audience to be invested in a character’s mundane actions on the Internet, you need to make the characters worthy of the viewers’ time in the first place.
Blair (Shelley Hennig of Teen Wolf), is the quintessential good-girl. Except that she slept with her boyfriend’s best friend, and harassed her former friend Laura until she killed herself. Oh, and that she’s a stage-five clinger who can’t go five seconds without a response from her boyfriend before freaking out. I mean, she never put out for the guy or even showed him some Skype-boobies—why would he put up with that? Because he’s just the perfect boyfriend who loves her, and he’s willing to wait until she’s ready to have sex. Cue the eye rolls. If you want to make a believable movie about how teens really act in the social media enhanced 21st Century, you cannot feed me this bullshit. Most girls in middle school do a lot more than you would like to think before they even make it to high school. And it’s not like Blair was a saint in the sex department, anyway. So, you better believe these two would be Skype-sexing on the regular.
Rounding out the cast are the chubby, computer geek, Ken; Jess, the quirky blonde girl who has slept with everyone in school; the douche-bag pretty-boy, Adam; and Val, the bitchy girl in the group who doesn’t really fit in with the rest. They’re all just throw-away characters who float in the background, with the sole purpose of being on screen to be killed.
There is nothing about these characters that makes them stand out to the audience, or anything that makes you empathize with them. I began counting how many characters were left on screen, hoping they would die off soon so that I could leave. And the fact that I had to look up the characters names only an hour after seeing the movie just shows you how lifeless and forgettable they actually were.
Not only were the characters poorly developed, they were also unjustifiably stupid. It was really hard for me to believe that all of the teens immediately accepted what was happening to them without questioning it: Ok, this person is threatening my life, I guess I’ll just let them and not just close my f**ing computer or call the police.
Then there were the laughable moments that followed the death of several main characters’. Call me crazy but that isn’t the reaction that should have been elicited from the audience when a character is murdered. Immediately after a character kills herself in an unintentionally hilarious way, Blair asks Mitch if he still loves her and if they’re ok. And he’s all like, “Yeah, I love you so much, baby.” Really? That’s what you’re concerned about? You just saw your friends f**king
kill themselves! The stability of your relationship shouldn’t be the first thing on your mind!
The filmmakers then continue to add insult to injury by talking down to their audience. If there is anything that really grinds my gears, it’s when the director thinks that he or she needs to spell every little thing out to the audience. There is a moment in Unfriended where the teens think that what’s happening is a prank, and one character suggests that it’s just an Internet troll. Then we are treated to an exposition dump explaining what a troll is. You don’t need to tell your audience what an Internet troll is, especially when all of them have either been one or dealt with one at one time or another.
Good movies don’t need to explain everything to the audience. If you are a competent director with a capable cast, everything should speak for itself. Carrying an R-rating, Unfriended is marketed to the 18-35 set. So, there’s no need to treat your target audience like they are 12.
As well as dumbing itself down to its audience, the film also tried too hard to be “hip” with today’s kids. It made regular use of brand names like Skype and Facebook while trying to deliver a compelling message about cyber-bullying and its effects on people. Unfortunately, it failed to really make any point. The things that happened in this film were too laughable to be meaningful or have a lasting impression on its audience.
Moreover, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that girls will do a lot worse than what these young ladies did to one another in Unfriended: Girls nowadays will straight up take you into the woods and shank you, just because they don’t want to be your friend anymore. But that kind of reckless behavior that’s becoming more and more commonplace amongst young millennials was never explored. There was no sense of dread. There was no build up or tension. The audience is just given the ‘opportunity’ to watch cardboard characters on a computer screen, whining about pointless bullshit, and being murdered.
If this is an indication of where theatrical horror is headed, I am not looking forward to it. Unfriended is nothing more than a gimmick and it felt downright lazy to me. The director doesn’t have to do a lot of actual directing, and it seems that the majority of the film’s budget went to securing licensing for the use of brand names like Facebook and Skype.
Instead of spending your money on Unfriended, wait for it to hit Netflix. And use the money you’ve saved to seek out any number of better horror films that are available on VOD right now.
WICKED RATING: [usr 1]
Director(s): Levan Gabriadze
Writer(s): Nelson Greaves
Stars: Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Whysocki, Courtney Halverson and Heather Sossaman
Studio/ Production Co: Universal Pictures, Blumhouse Productions and Bazelevs Company
Budget: $1 million
Length: 82 minutes
Sub-Genre: found footage, supernatural