While a large majority of the hardcore horror fans are content to bemoan the prevalence of the “found footage” format, a few people are out there trying to change your mind by bringing some new perspectives to the experience. And while it’s certainly true that you’ll find a lot of dry, dreary, and redundant found footage movies out there, it’s also sort of satisfying when you find one that’s relatively clever, novel, or creative.
Such is the case with Unfriended, which is actually little more than a new-fangled take on the old-school “dead teenager” concept, but is also rather unexpectedly effective. Presented entirely in a multi-windowed “webcam/video chat” style (not unlike last year’s The Den, which is also worth checking out), Unfriended (formerly known as Cybernatural) feels like an old-fashioned campfire tale that’s been updated for the internet generation.
While the plot may sound conventional, the presentation certainly is not: told in “real time” (or pretty darn close), Unfriended is about a group of (mostly pretty terrible) teenagers whose awful behavior has led to the suicide of a classmate named Laura. Now it’s a year later and the whole gang has gotten together for an impromptu video chat. Unfortunately for them, “the whole gang” seems to include Laura’s supremely infuriated ghost, which leads to all sorts of wildly nasty and frequently shocking dispatches from beyond the grave. And by dispatches I mean “messages” as well as “murders.”
As is often the case with technologically-focused “ghost in the machine” stories, the viewer is asked to play along with some fairly outlandish ideas, but – thanks mainly to the surprisingly compelling visual presentation and an energetic pacing that prevents the movie for lingering on one point for too long – Unfriended avoids many of the pitfalls inherent in thrillers of a similar ilk. It’s a novel enough movie, thanks to the visual gimmickry on display, but Unfriended is also quite a bit cleverer than one might glean at first glance. Not only is the movie fairly fascinating just as a novelty piece, but Nelson Greaves’ screenplay also works as a bitter and brutal indictment of teen-on-teen bullying that isn’t shy about hammering home a few worthwhile ideas about the dangers of being snobby, unkind, or cruel.
One can only imagine how much editorial/post-production work had to be done to make an 80-minute video-chat session feel like an actual movie, so kudos to director Levan Gabriadze on what must have been a pretty arduous project, and to his cast for creating a bunch of generally rotten teenagers who are still pretty interesting to watch. It’s always nice to come across a low-budget horror flick that wraps a simple, scary story inside of a decidedly contemporary package, but it’s considerably more satisfying to note that, while Unfriended is about (and geared for) teenagers, it maintains a consistently adult tone.
Best of all, it manages to make a few cool points that will (hopefully) send a message to those who think it’s cool to harass, hassle, and bully anyone less fortunate than themselves. Not a bad little lesson for a horror movie to send out into the world.
Scott Weinberg (@ScottEWeinberg)
UNFRIENDED is out in the US now, and in UK cinemas from Friday