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Friday, January 15, 2016

Unfriended

Unfriended
2015
Leo Gabriadze

I'll have to admit, when I first saw the trailers for Unfriended I dismissed it. I've discussed in other reviews why it is so difficult to bring horror into the streaming digital world. By it's very nature digital culture is intangible and ethereal, something that should lend itself well to a ghost story, but ghost stories are very difficult to pull off. The trailers for Unfriended made it look like a simple slasher film, albeit one using social media as a jumping off point. Thankfully the film is much smarter than that, it's primarily about people and how they use social media not only to hide their intentions but they strike out at other with limited repercussions.

Okay everyone, how many awful direct to video sequels do you think there will be?
The story opens with Blaire (Shelley Hennig) Skype chatting with her boyfriend Matt (Matthew Bohrer), they receive a random request for a call and deny it. Soon all their friends join in a group call that none of them started. They realize that this is all happening on the anniversary of a young woman, Laura Barnes (Heather Sossaman), committing suicide. Their group call has an unseen participant who is hell bent on making everyone in the group expose their darkest secrets or else they risk meeting a sticky end.  As everyone's nasty side is forced into the light, the tale of what really happened to Laura Barnes begins to unfold.

The entirety of Unfriended is shot from the laptop screen of Blaire. The movie plays fair and never violates this rule. Working under such a tight constriction forces the story to find creative ways to show what's happening. I was worried that the format would grow tedious rather quickly, but in reality, trying to engage whoever is speaking, while at the same time looking around the screen for other messages becomes more demanding of the viewer than expected. Only on few occasions, when everyone is talking and shouting at once, did I find myself getting annoyed, but I think that is the proper response to that situation no matter what. One of the most interesting aspects is what isn't said. We often see Blaire type something out only to erase and rethink what she's about to say. It's a sly way to show how we all curate and refine our lives online, even when there's something important happening.

A preview of what an Outpost Zeta YouTube video will be like.
Unfriended works a surprising amount of eeriness into its story. Although I think the source of the group's unknown assailant is very easy to figure out, how it operates or maybe more importantly, how it defies logic becomes the main source of horror. There is a small amount of gore which is used sparingly and in brief flashes to help punctuate it for maximum effect.

This is a film that is going to seem extremely dated in just a couple of years, but I think it stands as a great example of how to bring horror into a modern context. Unfriended isn't a grand revelation or anything, but it is a very smart and well constructed film.

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