★★ / ★★★★
On April 12, 2013, a high school student named Laura Barns (Heather Sossamon) committed suicide because a humiliating video of her was posted online by one of her classmates. A year later, while on Skype, a group of friends notices that there is another person within the group video chat. They assume it is some kind of glitch because every time they log on as group, this person is right there with them. The stranger’s Skype profile claims to be their deceased classmate. Naturally, they are convinced it is some sort of prank.
“Unfriended,” directed by Levan Gabriadze, is a neat horror movie not because it is particularly scary but because it is able to establish a conceit and remain loyal to it all the way through. That is, the entire movie appears to take place on a computer screen. Surely the technique is creative, modern, and bold enough to inspire imitators. I hope, however, that the filmmakers who became inspired to tell a story of their own through this conceit would be more ambitious, willing to push the envelope a bit further, and actually creating films that chill to the bone.
I believed that the characters on screen are real teenagers. They speak, type, and react like actual teenagers do. Even better are the sorts of websites saved on one’s favorites or tab. Although the actors look like they are in their twenties facially, it helps that we never clearly see them from head to toe. It can be argued that the innate lighting during video chats and the computers’ less than ideal resolutions can add years to one’s face.
The problem in this film, like in countless horror pictures, is the lack of characterization. Although each one is given a surface personality, I never cared about who lived or died. Ken (Jacob Wysocki) is the computer whiz, Jess is the sassy blonde (Renee Ousted), Mitch (Moses Storm) loves his girlfriend, Blaire (Shelley Hennig) is the virgin, and Adam (Will Peltz) is the one who takes shots and sips of wine between moments. Out of the five, I found Adam to be most interesting because the kid has quite a temper.
We see the horrors unfold through Blaire’s computer. We get to see how she thinks through the kind of websites she visits when she begins to realize slowly that maybe the prank is actually a supernatural phenomenon. We learn about her thoughts as she types one thing but proceeds to delete a sentence, types something else entirely, and hits send. But this character, compared to the others, does not stand out. Perhaps that is the point—that none of these teenagers is special, whether it be on the basis of intellect, instinct, or survival skills.
The film is written by Nelson Greaves and the subject is supposed to be the repercussions of cyberbullying. Because it is a horror film, I expected deaths—gruesome ones (which still disappoint)—but I hoped that such would not be the endpoint. It might have been a stronger film if it had changed gears halfway or two-thirds through, and turned our expectations inside out. Perhaps one way to make this horror story novel is to deliver a real message about being a teenager, making mistakes, and learning from them—instead of ending up dead. Sometimes it just shouldn’t be about the body count.