Unfriended is a bold, refreshing horror movie, not because of its found-footage ish central conceit, but because of what it’s about.
The film is almost entirely in one long screen take of Blaire Lily’s (Shelley Hennig) computer. She Skypes with her friends on the anniversary of Laura Barnes’ (Heather Sossaman) suicide, but their chat is invaded by a mystery person using Barnes’ account. The mystery user systematically tortures them, forcing them to either reveal secrets about themselves or kill themselves. The characters are forced to confront each other and themselves about the ways they’ve wronged each other, as well as what they did to Barnes.
Unfriended is a sterling horror movie, not because of the jump scares or shock value, but because of what’s going on between the characters. The Skype ringtone is never going to be scary, but that’s not what you’re supposed to be afraid of here. Really, it’s less of a horror movie and more of a Greek tragedy joined midway through act two.
These people have cheated on each other, teased and bullied each other and talked behind each others’ backs until their faces turned blue. It’s high school wrongs they’ve committed, but if you remember that time in your life, you’ll sympathize. Also, these things really do drive people to suicide. They are serious issues.
The tortures are elaborate, elegant and purely emotional. Most of the film takes place over a game of Never Have I Ever, the loser of which will die. At one point, for example, two characters receive printouts that say the other will die if they are revealed, as the mystery user relies on the distrust it as sewn to kill one or the other. It’s about what’s going on between the characters! It’s not as scary as it is sad, but viewers will be moved watching friendships disintegrate before their eyes.
They’ll also be protected emotionally, because these are horrible, petty people who deserve no sympathy. High schoolers, after all.
As the mystery account takes more and more control and prevents them from leaving the conversation or calling for help, viewers may also come to fear their computer screens. It’s not he point of the movie, but the setting may become traumatic in a Paranormal Activity kind of way.
The film actually gets weaker where it begins to resemble modern horror. In many of the death scenes, shaky cam rears its sudden, boring head, and viewers never get a good view of the carnage that’s supposed to frighten them. It doesn’t even make sense for the cameras to shake, it’s only there to imitate what people expect from horror movies right now, even though everyone hates it. This particular movie also uses Skype static to mark transitions into the jump scare scenes, making them even less scary.
The movie was shot over 16 days for $1 million, so expect a ton of clones in the near future, even though the conceit doesn’t really lend itself to repetition.
Don’t go in expecting to jump. Go in expecting to be mildly creeped out and somber for the doomed leads, and Unfriended will satisfy.
Unfriended will go into wide release April 17.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. I feel like all of these articles should be headlined, “XX number of rules for dating me personally” and should never be read or shared outside the writer’s personal circle of will they/won’t theys. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.