Every generation has a horror movie or two that completely encapsulates the fears brought about by their primary method of expression. In the 80s, Friday The 13th turned the campsites of free drinks, drugs, and love into blood soaked grave-sites, In the 90s, The Blair Witch Project created an entirely new genre using our obsession with portable and accessible video as it’s weapon, and now in 2015, Unfriended takes on the horrors of the internet. We live in an age where anybody’s life and attention is up for grabs at any time, certainly a monster of sorts that may not take a concrete form, but looms over us all waiting for us to make a mistake. Those mistakes, are the catalyst of Unfriended.
The movie takes place entirely on the laptop screen of Blaire (Shelley Hennig), a high school senior who thinks that this night will end like any other, on Skype with her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm) and their three friends. However, things take a turn when a mysterious caller joins in, sending threatening messages to the group along with personal attacks to Blaire, claiming to be Laura (Heather Sossaman) a girl who committed suicide a year earlier due to cyber-bulling committed at least in part by each member of this call. As her attacks go on, it becomes clear that her threats are very real, as she confines our band of jackasses to the call, picking them off one by one.
Unfriended is instantly commendable for it’s commitment to it’s unique format. Seeing as we never leave Blaire’s computer, it in turn leads to several tension building techniques that are not only effective, but realistic. Blaire will multitask, opening up other windows and sending messages as she tries to piece together what is going on. This makes each tone or page of Skype or Facebook extremely ominous, as the film plays on our familiarity with them to punctuate important points. Each message could be something critical. Beyond that, the film avoids the pitfall of crystal clear video chat reception that plagues so many movies that portray it. The reception is often spotty, and those lapses of video and audio make for wonderful tension, leaving what could be happening to the imagination. While certainly gory in small doses, the film admirably leaves a great deal of it’s shock value within this tension, and as such comes across as restrained and effective.
It helps that the characters, while certainly reprehensible in their own ways, are given just enough depth and personality to make them engaging. As we find out just how far their depravity has gone, they either have fairly clear motivations, or freely admit that they didn’t have a motive, simply getting caught up in the temptations of a digital age. Beyond that, the chemistry between them is constantly engaging and often quite funny, with pettiness galore, which comes out most prevalently in the most high stakes game of Never Have I Ever on film to date. However, it does hurt a bit that there is nobody to really and truly like. There was not a moment where I wasn’t sympathetic to Laura, which makes the emotional elements of the story a bit lopsided.
The film also majorly and disappointingly cops out at it’s conclusion. What is so tragic here, is that just seconds before the ending does hit, something truly profound and heartbreaking happens. Something so poetically perfect, that it would have given me chills for hours afterwards if it was not ruined. Sure, it’s subtle, but it’s the conclusion this film deserves, and the tacked on final jump scare screams of studio interference.
Is Unfriended the next horror masterpiece? No. However, it not only manages to balance originality with solid storytelling, but it’s a short, tightly paced little creep-fest that remains engaging from moment one, even if it majorly undercuts itself on the home stretch. Who knows, it just might find itself in the annals of horror history for format alone, and if anything, it makes for a damn good screensaver on a lonely, dark friday night.