If you've ever experienced the negative side of life on the web, whether that be cyber-bullying, hacking, or anything else along those lines, then I have a feeling that Unfriended is really going to resonate with you quite a bit more.
If you've actually been the bully? Watch out.
Written by Nelson Greaves and directed by Levan Gabriadze, Unfriended seems like it's going to be a throwaway film but, rather surprisingly, it's a mostly satisfying horror flick wrapped around a concept so simple that indie filmmakers everywhere will be likely smacking their cameras against their heads wondering why they hadn't thought of it first.
Laura (Heather Sossaman) is a beautiful teenager who has the not so uncommon experience of a compromising video of her at a party go viral.
Three days later she kills herself.
One year after that, she wants revenge.
In some ways, Unfriended is a fresh spin on the rather tired "found footage" genre, but in other ways it's a rather perfect storm of a film that weaves together elements of classic horror into the very real world in which a good majority of teenagers live these days. The result? A film that feels believable and has enough chilling elements of horror, at times rather graphically so, that it may prove to be the antidote for those of you who've seen Furious 7 seven times and are ready for something else. While it remains to be seen if Unfriended has any hope of dethroning the box-office champ, one can only hope that moviegoers give this film a chance rather than the disappointing Paul Blart sequel arriving in theaters on the same weekend.
The film opens with Blaire (Shelley Hennig, Ouija) videochatting with her boyfriend, Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm), and eventually being joined by pals Adam (William Peltz, Men, Women, & Children), Ken (Jacob Wysocki, Pitch Perfect), and Jess (Renee Olstead, The Secret Life of the American Teenager).
Eventually, a mysterious party joins the conversation with no identifier and no photo. For the most part, they assume it's nothing more than a glitch and Val (Courtney Halverson, True Detective) joins in.
Here's the thing. It's not a glitch. It's Laura and she wants to know who posted the video.
The film was developed by Timur Bekmambetov, whom most Americans know from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and perhaps what helps to make Unfriended such a chilling motion picture is just how much it taps into a society consumed by its social media. There are familiar steps along the way, at least steps that will be familiar to those who frequent social media, and these little benchmarks serve to provide many of the film's most anxiety inducing moments.
While the idea of a film that takes place almost exclusively within the realm of Skyping and or other brands of video-chatting may seem awkward and unlikely to work, Gabriadze makes it work. Oh sure, I'll be the first to admit that the film starts to get a little tiresome as we deal with the same essential concept over and over, but Unfriended largely trumps that experience by utilizing D.P. Adam Sidman's creative lensing that remains faithful to the film's central concepts even when pulling it off seems nearly impossible.
As is often the case in indie horror, the performances are a tad hit-and-miss. Heather Sossaman is incredibly effective as the vengeful Laura, while Shelley Hennig gives Blaire, Laura's former best friend, a friendly quality that really helps build an emotional framework for everything that goes on. Jacob Wysocki also gives a top notch performance.
Unfriended is a simple yet intelligent twist on a rather tired genre. While it's not a flawless film, it's a film that weaves horror into reality and there's seldom anything that's quite as terrifying.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic