Blake (Sean Meldrum) is an asshole.
We learn this rather quickly in Unfriending, the latest feature film from brothers Brett and Jason Butler. The film reveals its narrative premise early on - Blake, the asshole, has gathered a small group of kinda sorta friends at his parents' house to stage a "life intervention" designed to convince the small group's outcast, Isaac (Alex Stone), to make the world a better place by, well, killing himself.
The friends are a rather motley crew themselves - Blake's girlfriend May (Simone Jetsun), musician Darby (Honor Spencer) and her groupie turned lover Giselle (Rachelle Lauzon), Barclay (Michael Pearson, Radia (Jenna Vittoria), and the mysterious Lexxi (Golden Madison).
In case you haven't quite caught on, Unfriending is a dark film that ping-pongs between pitch black humor and moments of intense drama with equal enthusiasm. More than once, I found myself thinking "With friends like these, who needs enemies?" Yet, rest assured, as is always true of a Butler brothers film there's a whole lot going and they take their time getting there.
In fact, there's little denying that Unfriending won't be for everyone. In a film where nearly everyone is at least a bit of an asshole, it takes some serious patience to hold out for where Unfriending is going and how it's going to get there. To be honest, had I not already been familiar with the Butlers for other films such as Mourning Has Broken, The Notorious Newman Brothers, and Confusions of an Unmarried Couple, I'm not sure I'd have hung in there.
I'm sure glad I did.
Unfriending had its world premiere at the Gasparilla International Film Festival in March of this year and continues to enjoy a successful festival run including a prize for Best Ensemble. Indeed, it's hard to pick out a true favorite among this ensemble with pretty much everyone having real moments to shine.
Other than asshole, it's difficult to describe Meldrum's turn as the obnoxiously entitled, narcissistic Blake. Clearly harboring a condescending loathing for his underachieving "friend," Meldrum's Blake is so malicious it borders on being sociopathic yet there's also a charismatic, Patrick Bateman air about him. Simone Jetsun also soars as May with a semi-transformational character arc that captivates and confuses, jars and unsettles. I will confess my own personal delight with Honor Spencer's deceptive and inspired performance as Darby, an emotionally volatile musician in her own current state of flux. Golden Madison, as Lexxi, similarly always keeps us guessing and I dare not give any of her story away.
Yet, my very favorite may very well be Alex Stone's impressive work as the unique yet strangely likable Isaac. The role of Isaac could have so easily gone wrong, yet Stone keeps us absolutely immersed from melancholy to madness to, well, much more.
Original music by Tyler Lombard complements the narrative arc beautifully without ever dominating it. I can't imagine this film without it.
The Butlers, as usual, also lens their film and do so in such a way that half the time I felt like I was watching a really dark version of Clue while other times I kept expecting Parker Posey to show up somewhere.
That's a compliment in case you wonder.
There's so much more I'd love to say about Unfriending, however, this is a film best experienced with little advanced knowledge and a willingness to just surrender to it. Brett and Jason Butler have always been willing to stretch cinematic boundaries and they've done it once again with the dark but delightful Unfriending.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic