ONE OF THE BEST HORROR MOVIES OF 2015
Main Cast: Shelley Henning and Moses Storm
Director: Levan Gabriadze
As innovative and original as this movie is, I think someone with a much higher skillset than I have could spend hours going over this movie, writing pages and pages on it in an effort to fully illustrate how important a movie this is in many different respects. But that’s not me. I get the symbolism and the subtext, believe me. I feel the cyber-bully angle, the internet addiction angle, and how they both merge with the teen slasher genre to form this near-perfect storm of a horror movie. But there’s no way I could go into all of that here and still make it to work on time, 4 hours from now.
So let’s just talk about the movie.
Unfriended is a movie I saw at the theater and, the very day I saw the DVD had been released, bought it so I could watch it again.
Told in a found-footage fashion, turned on its head because nothing in this movie claims to be “found after the incident”, this is the story of 5 friends being terrorized by the ghost of, Laura Barns, a dead “friend” on the one year anniversary of her death. Told mostly through the POV of Blair (Shelley Henning, “Teen Wolf”), all we see through the entire movie is whatever Blair sees on her computer screen as she shifts from page to page while she and her friends, boyfriend Mitch (Moses Storm, “About a Boy”), Adam (Will Peltz, “Entourage”, Ken (Jacob Wysocki, “Huge”), and Jess (Renee Olstead, “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”) (with Val–Courney Halverson from “True Detective” joining for a short time before…we’ll get to that), are on a group Skype call. They notice a mysterious added presence in the “room”, one no one invited, and it won’t go away no matter how many times they try to hang up on it.
Blair soon discovers the call is coming from Laura’s account. But since she’s been dead for a year, how is that possible? And why is Laura dead? Because the previous year, someone posted an anonymous video of her passed out and covered in shit at a party. What followed was a massive wave of cyber bullying, insisting Laura’s life is over and she should just kill herself. So she does. Now she’s back to give the people she feels are most responsible for it hell.
She posts pictures of Val passed out drunk, but posts them from Jess’s Facebook account. When Jess removes them, they show up posted to Adam’s page. The group starts to fight amongst themselves while the ghost gets to sit back and watch the world fall down. Finally Val realizes who the culprit is and she threatens “billie”, the name on the call. Val is disconnected from the call, but as soon as the gang gets her back on, she’s already “committed suicide.”
Shit just got real, and the remaining 5 start to lose it as the tension ramps up and Blair, behind the scenes, tries to report a hack to Laura’s account. Meanwhile Ken sends them all a file that will scrub their computers of whatever virus is attacking them. Not a good idea, Laura says. Now Ken has to die, too. Good thing he’s got this handy blender on his desk next to his computer. It’s for salsa, but it works just as good on hands.
Finally, Laura forces the remaining four to play a game of Never Have I Ever. And the loser dies. Then she begins to reveal the deepest, darkest secrets, the ones they would have kept from their best friends forever if possible. These aren’t secrets like Adam likes to watch “Gilmore Girls” while wearing a bra and panties, these are friendship ending secrets. And with each round, we get closer and closer to a loser.
Unfriended is a brilliant take on the found footage method. It’s an idea that sounds like a good idea on paper but sounds like it would be a terrible disaster on screen. And yet it totally works!
Shelley Henning sells the movie as Blair. She comes across as too goody-goody at times and when she tries to act as peacekeeper between the arguing friends, it’s no surprise, but overall, I believed her character’s panic and confusion.
The general cast of Blair’s friends could have been nameless for all the good it did as the only thing you remember about them are their traits. Mitch is “the boyfriend”, Adam is “spoiled rich kid”, Jess is “slutty friend”, and Ken is “stoner fat kid who obviously doesn’t belong in this group, but they keep him around.” I mean, the thing practically writes itself when you add these stereotypes to the mix and, if I’m being honest, should result in just another cheesy forgettable revenge flick.
But there’s that computer screen gimmick to work with and it really enhances the experience of the movie, especially in this internet-addicted age. As we watch Blair move from screen to screen in a desperate attempt to figure out what’s going on and how to stop it, it’s just a reminder of how many of us spend our entire days doing just that very thing. I mean, on average, how many web pages do you think you visit in a day? Whether you realize it or not, it’s a LOT. And that’s why watching this movie feels so comfortable.
Nelson Greaves (“Sleepy Hollow”) and Levan Gabriadze (Lucky Trouble) (writer and director respectively) have made one of the most relevant horror movies of their time. Vengeful ghosts aside, this is the world we live in. And this is definitely the world our kids live in as Greaves and Gabriadze let Instagram, Facebook, Spotify, Google, YouTube, Skype, Gmail, and Chatroulette tell their story for them. The only thing absent here was Twitter and that was probably only because there was no natural way to shoehorn it in there. So props on their restraint.
I think they overdid it a bit at times with the fake “connection glitches” in post production, so those props for restraint, let’s cut those in half, shall we? It’s one thing to watch a movie that’s playing out on a computer screen, it’s another to watch it happen with a terrible wi-fi connection, but holy crap, I haven’t seen service that bad (toward the end of the movie) since I had internet through AT&T.
But you know what? I’ll overlook that, because I enjoyed so much of this movie otherwise. In the end, it really is a deep, thought-provoking movie that also doesn’t skimp on the horror at all. No goofy one-liners, no impossible overly-gory deaths, and no gratuitous sex or violence. Everything that happens comes organically as a result of the story, and it all fits.
While this probably wasn’t the BEST horror movie I’ve seen all year, it’s definitely in the top five, top two or three, if I’m being truthful, but at this point I still have a few months left of the year to see horror movies. For now, though, Unfriended is right up there toward the top of the list. Highly recommended, and even better if you can watch it on a laptop. Having seen this on the big screen AND on a computer, the story loses nothing in the translation and feels really natural that way. Great job, in my opinion.
C. Dennis Moore is the author of over 60 published short stories and novellas in the speculative fiction genre. Most recent appearances were in the Dark Highlands 2, What Fears Become, Dead Bait 3 and Dark Highways anthologies. His novels are Revelations, and the Angel Hill stories, The Man in the Window, The Third Floor, The Ghosts of Mertland and The Flip. He is writing another Angel Hill novel called Return to Angel Hill with co-author David Bain.