Unfriended: Social Media Meets Murder in Found-Footage Horror
Moses StormRenee Olstead...
Told entirely through the static and limiting scope of a laptop screen, Unfriended – previously titled Cybernatural and Offline before that – is the latest cyber variation of the tireless found-footage horror subgenre which fails to bring anything new or novel to the table.
Unfriended tells the story of Laura Barns (Sossaman); a high-school student who commits suicide after having been publicly shamed when a video showing her drunk at a party appears online. A year after her death, her so-called friends, Blaire (Hennig), Ken (Mysocki), Adam (Peltz), Jess (Olstead), Val (Halverson) and Blaire’s boyfriend, Mitch (Storm), are all logged in on for their routine ‘hang-out’ session on Skype.
However, on this particular night, something seems off and soon into their group conference – which involves a lot of clicking and switching between Facebook, YouTube and Google – the group notices that there is a mysterious presence going by the name Billie sitting amongst them. At first, they think it’s some sort of a computer glitch but, the cryptic intruder – soon exposing itself as the ghost of Laura – is no joke. Using Blaire’s computer as the platform for inducing fear, personal information is soon leaked and used to turn the teens against each other and as the fears turn into brutal murderous acts, it’s pretty clear that the entity is out for blood.
Inspired by actual teen-suicide events such as the cases of Amanda Todd and Audri Pott – two fifteen-year old victims of cyberbullying who took their own life – Unfriended tries but, ultimately fails, to deliver any real stimulation and, most importantly, highlight the importance of cyber-tolerance and how this virtual life we are all leading today – especially the younger demographic – could be potentially dangerous. Instead, it uses its core narrative – a devastating teen suicide – as a gateway for blood and violence. Although its idea is not necessarily offensive and ineffectual, it could have done more with its premise and the message it tries to send.
Shot in one long take, director Levan Gabriadze manages to create a virtual world that is both genuinely believable and relatable; however, limiting audience perspective to one computer screen can prove a little tiresome, even with the film’s brisk eighty-minute running-time. Furthermore, the relatively unknown mix of actors comes across as an unlikable bunch, steeped heavily in clichés and serotypes who the audience might find a little hard to root for.
Ultimately, it will be difficult to find anyone over the age of twenty-one who will find Unfriended even remotely interesting; it’s affective in parts and just plain defective in others.