(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)
While there have been horror films that utilized Skype before (Paranormal Activity 4) and films that took place totally on a laptop (Open Windows), Blumhouse Productions’ Unfriended is the first to set a horror film completely within the social media world. Characters pop from Skype to Youtube to Facebook as the story unfolds and we even get some messages about the negative effects of cyber-bullying and having your entire life published online for the world to see…all within a surprisingly chilling and suspenseful horror.
The story opens on the one year anniversary of the suicide of high school student Laura Barns (Heather Soddaman), who killed herself after a humiliating video is posted on Youtube. Five of her friends, including pretty Blaire (Shelley Hennig), are having a Skype chat when an unknown caller joins in. No one can delete them and any effort to identify them leads back to the accounts of the dead Laura. A possible prank in bad taste turns into a living nightmare as the cyber-stalker starts to threaten the group into playing a game that slowly brings out their darkest secrets. There are deadly consequences if anyone tries to leave the game and as their numbers dwindle, horrible truths are revealed and the friends quickly begin to turn on each other. Is this some hacker with a cruel and personal vendetta, or has Laura truly returned from the grave with a vengeance?
Director Levan Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves have come up with a very clever horror set in the cyber world that today’s teens…and adults…inhabit. It lays out five convincing, typical high schoolers and then put’s them in a situation where their compulsion to document, and sometimes post, everything they do, comes back to haunt them…literally. Not only is Laura’s character dead due to a mean-spirited Youtube video, but her actual suicide was caught and posted as well. There is no privacy, even in death and this film exploits that as the mysterious stalker reveals the group’s darkest secrets through photos and videos they think are hidden safely on their computers. The fiend also seems to know some very personal details and there is even an online article about the dead communicating through social media with the living, to get the group…and the audience…properly spooked. And Gabriadze and his editors do a good job of building the chills and tension as this online nightmare gets worse and worse and the circle of friends gruesomely loses members when they don’t cooperate. The filmmakers make good use of the limited range of Skype, so we never know if there is someone…or something…lurking just behind our terrified teens. If anything held the film back a little, it was that those from an older generation, like myself, may have a harder time identifying with the laptop generation and the urge to have one’s personal life connected so thoroughly with the internet. That and some of the clicking back and forth between windows sometimes disrupts the tension a bit. Otherwise this is a very clever and sometimes very intense little horror that will make you think twice about how much you open up your personal life in cyberspace…or taunting someone else online.
The cast all do a convincing job portraying typical modern teens. They have their drama and sometimes can be a bit insensitive when it comes to the urge to go public with what happens around them and involving others. Shelley Hennig’s Blaire is our focus…it’s her laptop on which the action takes place…and she does solid work as she first tries to get to the bottom of this strange intruder and then conveying her terror as she is broken down and comes apart likes the rest of her friends. Those friends being played by Moses Storm as boyfriend Mitch, Renes Olstead as Jess, Will Peltz as Adam, Jacob Wysocki as stoner/cyber-geek Ken and Courtney Halverson as the bitchy Val. They all convey well their fear and anger as their souls are bared and it’s almost fun to watch as they go from fearing for one another to turning on each other to save their own lives.
So, overall I liked this a lot. I think it would have been even more effective if I identified better with today’s social media immersed generation. I don’t get people’s need to document and post their every though and action…says the guy with the blog…and certainly don’t understand the apathy and lack of respect by posting things harmful about others. This is not the fault of the film, however, and overall I recommend it for a clever, devious and sometimes very disturbing cyber-horror.
3 very solid laptops.