As universal fears go, public humiliation is near the top of the list. In the quaint old days, when something embarrassing happened to you, it was usually only witnessed by a few people and forgotten relatively quickly. Not anymore in our age of social media, instant camera access, and countless outlets to post to. Unfriended, a reasonably crafty horror/thriller, examines the ramifications of an over sharing society that rarely thinks before posting. Unfortunately, this worthwhile message is wrapped in a by-the-numbers, scare-free slasher package that will likely test your patience for watching people yell at each other on Skype.
It’s the anniversary of the suicide of Laura Barns (Sossaman), a high school girl who couldn’t bear the humiliation after a video of her passed-out drunk is posted to YouTube. Five of her classmates are on Skype (it appears to be a nightly event) when a mysterious sixth person enters the room. After Laura’s social media accounts begin posting, the group believes they’ve been hacked. It soon becomes clear, however, that Laura is controlling them from the afterlife and is seeking revenge upon those who drove her to take her own life.
Director Levan Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves deserve credit for extracting some suspense out of every day, otherwise mundane computer communication. The setup is quite slick, drawing us in with just enough information about the tragedy and prepping the audience for a contemporary, technology-driven take on the revenge-possession parable. It doesn’t take long for Unfriended to work itself into a corner, resulting in a repetitive second act of pixelated killings (amazing how internet connectivity drops at the most opportune moments) and the remaining characters engaging in accusatory shouting matches. The “scares” are all of the jump variety and the deaths fairly tame, not to mention completely telegraphed in the film’s opening minutes.
Unfriended is not without merit as a cautionary tale about the perils of posting sensitive pictures and video for the world to see. The “it’s just a joke!” and “I didn’t mean it!” excuses don’t hold water when the files are online forever and can do damage for just as long. As a cinematic experience, it’s much less engaging and would be better served as a tightly-wound short. Also, fair warning for those sensitive about the use of keyboard shortcuts: the amount of right-clicking in Unfriended may be the biggest scare of all.
Studio: Universal Pictures
Length: 82 Minutes
Rating: R for violent content, pervasive language, some sexuality, and drug and alcohol use – all involving teens.
Theatrical Release: April 17, 2015
Directed by: Levan Gabriadze
Written by: Nelson Greaves
Cast: Heather Sossaman, Matthew Bohrer, Courtney Halverson, Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm