Traditional horror is basically a morality tale. Anyone who has seen the Scream films will be aware that the easiest way to survive a horror film, is to make sure you stay as far away from sex as possible. However, in 2015 that idea doesn’t really work anymore. Times are changing and horror movies need to catch up. Enter Unfriended, a horror movie for the internet generation.
Seemingly set in real-time, Unfriended takes place on one person’s laptop screen, Blair Lily. As she and her friends begin a Skype chat, they are joined by an unknown party, an unknown party who seems to be pretending to be their friend Laura Barnes. This is an issue because Laura killed herself exactly a year earlier, following the posting of an embarrassing video online. As this online troll slowly releases sensitive information about each party, it becomes clear this is someone much more dangerous than a keyboard warrior with some hacking skills.
It’s an interesting idea and one that I can genuinely say I’ve never seen before. While we have seen hackers and computers becoming part of the cinematic canon, the truth is very few filmmakers have managed to capture the everyday banality of life on the web. We see that through Blair. She leaps from screen to screen, conversation to conversation all with barely a stop for breath. Everything is fleeting and disappears at the touch of a button and when something goes wrong, even when it goes wrong on the computer, the instant reaction is to head to the internet to look for an answer.
Credit for this has to go to both the director and the editor. With everything taking place on one screen, this could have easily been a jumbled mess. Yet director Levan Gabriadze and editor Parker Laramie manage to keep this film together. Seemingly all in real-time, it is flawlessly edited together, despite never once leaving the laptop screen. With the actors having filmed in separate rooms and only popping up on-screen via their Skype accounts, the story could easily have flapped away, forgotten and lost. The fact that it avoids that, is enough to make it worthy of credit.
On the flip side, it really does struggle to be scary. There are a few jump scares, but the alienation the computer gives means that we never really feel attached to the character on-screen. While telling a story through Skype chats and photos is impressive, we only really catch brief ideas of character from their conversations, meaning we never truly bond with them. This makes it a lot harder to care when things begin to go wrong. This leave the filmmakers having to rely on big bangs in order to inspire terror and while that will get you shifting in your seat, the feeling is gone in seconds and you are unlikely to be lying in bed at night staring at your laptop terrified of what it might do.
Despite this, Unfriended is interesting enough to make it worth a watch. It takes horror onto the internet and has created a story that is both traditional and new. These kids are haunted because of what they did online and it suggests that hiding behind the anonymity of a keyboard doesn’t make you safe. For being brave enough to take horror into this realm, Unfriended is definitely worth a watch.