Ever since the proliferation of found footage horror movies, studios and directors have been trying to find unique ways to approach the genre. This particular genre is an acquired taste since it hinders the viewer’s field of vision and makes it difficult to provide an entertaining narrative. Due in part to the film trying to convince you it’s all real. As special effects have improved, movies like Cloverfield, Chronicle, and even the Paranormal Activity movies have found ways to enhance the experience. Although no matter what format you choose to show your movie in, the most important part should always be a good story and compelling characters. Otherwise we start checking our phones.
In Unfriended, directed by Levan Gabriadze, Blaire is watching a video where a girl named Laura Barns kills herself. A link leads to another video that made her kill herself. As Blaire and her boyfriend Mitch begin enjoying a nice Skype chat about their upcoming prom and satisfying their carnal desires on the same night, a surprise group Skype appears on their computer screens. All of Blaire’s friends have joined the video chat, including a stranger who never turns on their camera. Each of them begins to receive messages from someone pretending to be Laura Barns on her Facebook and other online accounts. As the movie proceeds, the mysterious stranger takes control of their computers and threatens them with death if they decide to leave the chat, forcing them to play games that reveal secrets about all of them involving Laura.
Essentially this movie is a revenge or vengeance story on behalf of Laura Barns. Each of the people on the Skype chat has done something wrong and now must be tormented online for the stranger’s amusement. A stranger who has access to your computer and your house. Should you lose the game, you die in a grotesque way at what appears to be your own hands. The supposed Laura Barns even hacks into your own Facebook or YouTube account and posts damaging footage of you to the public. Effectively destroying her victim’s reputations before taking them out.
One of the biggest problems I had with this film is its inability to build tension. Every time it tried, the Skype videos would freeze and glitch, like in real life, and it would be more annoying than frightening. Then when someone is about to die, the video would go black and then come back showing how they killed themselves. You also are struggling to watch these scenes because the movie is only utilizing 1/4 of the movie screen. Divide that by six video chats and you have a film that is not only hard to watch, but boring as well. In the real world, video chats get tiresome so most people have a movie or music playing in the background. Watching someone else’s chats is even worse. I hoped one of the characters would pan their webcam over to their tv. At least we’d have the chance of glancing at a better movie.
It’s the script that really sinks this movie for me. Skype chats aren’t interesting. Throw in a ghost hacker and it gets slightly better, but then you still have to listen to screaming teenagers filtered through bad audio. One character is smoking weed, another is looking at their phone, and none of them have anything remotely worthwhile to say. I don’t know anything about these people at this point and I already want them to die. I know this is how real chats sound, but this is a movie for pete’s sake. Come up with dialogue I might consider repeating nostalgically five years from now.
The one decent thing I can say about this movie is the way our ghost in the machine would mess with Blaire, since her computer is the one we see throughout this ordeal. Laura would tease Blaire when she tries to delete videos that pop up. Whenever something tragic happens, Laura would play music on Blaire’s computer that fits the moment. It’s as if Bugs Bunny became a cyber killer.
I’m not entirely sure what inspired this Skype-centric horror film. Modern Family did it in one episode, but that was less than 30 minutes. Staring at a computer screen for more than an hour, when a third is spent watching freeze frames and pixels, should have clued someone in charge that this is not a good idea. My only reason for why this didn’t go straight to Netflix is its budget. A movie like this, with no big stars, must have cost next to nothing. One weekend at the box office should be enough to make a profit.
As a horror fan I might consider recommending this just for the experimental concept, but it may just increase your blood pressure. So to protect your health, I’d suggest watching a movie that puts computer screens where they belong. In the background.
Synopsis: A group of online chat room friends find themselves haunted by a mysterious, supernatural force using the account of their dead friend.
Director: Leo Gabriadze
Writers: Nelson Greaves
Stars: Heather Sossaman, Matthew Bohrer, Courtney Halverson, Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Will Peltz
Runtime: 82 Minutes
Releases: April 17, 2015