Unfriended follows a group of teenagers online as they arrange a group Skype chat. However, a mysterious, faceless person is added to their conversation and claims to be classmate Laura Barns who was driven to suicide after being cyber bullied exactly one year ago.
If nothing else, Unfriended is a film for our time and suitably comments on the state of our computer and internet-obsessed society. Perhaps incorrectly, the film decides to centre on teenagers and implies that they are the ones with the problem. Nonetheless, I’m sure most of us can raise our hands and admit that, we too, probably spend far too much of our time on our phones and on the internet, spending very little of our lives in actual reality. The technological ghost of Unfriended warns the characters against logging out, presenting a dilemma that none of us have faced; what if shutting down our computers does not close the internet, leaving it to seep in to our offline lives? Despite the film encouraging its characters to stay online, Unfriended has a clear message that warns against the potential dangers that lurk on the internet. The depiction of the online ghost could easily be transferred to a living person, someone who preys on vulnerable people by using the internet as a defence. There is a lot of social commentary to delve in to; the bullying awareness theme is unavoidable with the film taking a firm stance in its belief in protecting young people online, but also punishing those that partake in cyber bullying.
Many traditional horror films present what happens when the supernatural infects the natural world, but Unfriended shows what happens when the paranormal gets in to the technological landscape. It’s a refreshing idea that is competently executed, giving the found-footage genre a much-needed shake-up. We’ve had films shot on iPhones and films that have used games consoles to display paranormal activity, and now we have something told entirely from a girl’s laptop screen – what could possibly be next? By choosing this perspective, Unfriended landed itself a massive challenge, something that would not work without a solid story behind it.
However, the film confidently grasps the challenge with its bare hands and fashions something quite remarkable; a jumpy, gripping and at times, dreadfully scary teen flick. It makes a firm mark in the horror genre, moving on from haunted houses and possession, reverting back to the 1990’s where science-fiction and horror was prevalent on commenting on fears of technology.
The characters we are given to journey with are a hateful bunch, but that’s okay. We’re supposed to be repelled by them, because they are truly awful people who aren’t even loyal to each other. A particularly tense moment ensues when ‘Laura’ makes the group play an extreme round of the game “Never Have I Ever” where they each take it in turns to say something they have never done, and the others will lose a life if they admit they have done it. Geddit? Typically, this game is a bit of harmless – usually – fun and involves a few drinks. But, in this version the loser dies. The tension during the game is rapidly built as an on-screener timer allocates them just 30 seconds to admit to their wrong-doing. It’s the ultimate test of truth and, sadly, they all pretty much fail.
Unfriended doesn’t paint teenagers in the most positive light; the characters are reduced to disloyal, fickle and unkind symbols of adolescence, which is quite unfair. However, seeing horrible meet their demise is a lot of fun. It is easy to be drawn in to the story and feel like you’re there with them and witnessing the character’s slow decline from confident youngsters into frightened, vulnerable wrecks is almost like seeing your friends deteriorate…If your friends are complete bitches.
For a low-budget, experimental horror film Unfriended is an all-round success. It’s an overall unpredictable endeavour, something with just enough scares and surprises to take you to its end. It’s short and sweet, barely reaching the 80-minute mark meaning it never outstays its welcome, but says and does plenty within its limit. The filming style works surprisingly well considering its limitations; who knew that staring at a computer screen for 80 minutes could be so much fun?
Words: Jessy Williams