by Adam Riske
The first time I saw the trailer for Unfriended, I laughed at it. It seemed like a parody of a horror movie for teenagers and not a real movie. It’s as if it was trying to be super hip with its gimmick of being presented solely through Skype, chat sessions, instant messages etc. Then the quote blurbs hit the screen: “A new genre of horror,” “You’ve never experienced fear like this before,” followed by the tagline “Revenge comes online.” I couldn’t take it anymore and I laughed at the movie. I certainly didn’t have high expectations for Unfriended. But then early word came in and I was hearing that the movie was actually kind of good, so my curiosity increased and I decided to see it for myself.
Guess what? Those early reviews were right. Unfriended is good and a movie I’d much rather champion than malign. It’s energetic, entertaining, suspenseful and involving. I think it’s a bit hyperbolic to call the movie “a new genre of horror” (largely because this technique was utilized just last year in Open Windows, a movie I liked less than Unfriended) but it’s undeniable that the gimmick in which this movie was shot (i.e. seeing the action as you would if you were following along on your computer) does seem fresh and have some life left to it. It’s like you saw The Blair Witch Project in 1999 and still thought found footage was cool as opposed to what it is today, which is tired and played out. A better way to describe Unfriended is it that presents a new way of making a slasher movie about teenagers. Invention and experimentation in filmmaking is almost always welcome and, luckily in the case of Unfriended, the material is also pretty solid and not just the technique. I appreciate the effort put into trying something new instead of just paying aesthetic homage to horror movies of the past.
I mentioned earlier that the material mined in Unfriended works, which is a godsend because otherwise the only thing to talk about here would be the technique in which it was shot. But instead, we have a slasher movie (in the classic "avenging spirit" trope) told with a cyber-bullying subtext. That is what makes the movie something special. It’s a movie with a curiosity and an opinion on cyber-bullying, which is that even “nice” teenagers are capable of being unthinking, remorseless monsters online when their decision-making process is instant and doesn’t go beyond “this will make my friends laugh.” Unfriended is a movie with believable behavior (from everyone except the villain); none of it seems out of the realm of possibility for this group of teenagers and that keeps the movie more grounded and effective. This movie lives in a world that I’m glad I was not a part of when I was in my teens. It’s scary out there. I think Unfriended is actually ingenious in a way because it’s having a discussion on cyber-bullying (via the slasher genre) that doesn’t feel like moralizing or some sort of dry lesson being taught by someone who knows better. It’s pop art about the irresponsibility of abusing technology and the great harm it can cause others.
Unfriended has some minor issues, but none detract enough from me recommending you see the movie. The big one is that teenagers can be very annoying and this is a movie where you hear a group of teens acting cool, bickering and cursing at one another for feature length. The mood also could have been a little better handled. While a movie like Unfriended cries out for something somber like that of the original Japanese Pulse, this one is trying more to be in the vein of Scream. That isn’t all bad. I love Scream. Again, these are minor issues (centered on personal preference), but Scream wasn’t about cyber-bullying after all. Lastly, because the movie is entirely Skype video and pics of the cast, we don’t really get the added benefit of a variation of shots, except for close-ups. As a result, none of the characters feel bigger or smaller because of the proceedings largely due to the way it is shot. It’s so much close-up that it starts to mean nothing after a while.