Review: Unfriended (2015) – the Horror Film for the Millennials

Posted in Articles, Featured Items, Reviews by - April 19, 2015
Review: Unfriended (2015) – the Horror Film for the Millennials

SYNOPSIS:
A group of online chat room friends find themselves haunted by a mysterious, supernatural force using the account of their dead friend.

REVIEW:
Unfriended, the latest Blumhouse release from writer Nelson Greaves and director Levan Gabriadze, is the horror film for the millennial generation tapping into their social habits and preying upon their social fears. It also paints Generation Y in an extremely unfavorable light in order to share a revenge tale where a group of teens are haunted by the spirit of troubled school mate who was bullied into committing suicide. It is a tale straight out of modern news stories about the ill effects from the rise and domination of social media’s impact on today’s teens. The film is unique in its approach to its storytelling leaning heavily, almost entirely, upon its gimmick. The story is told from the screen of its lead protagonist, a young girl named Blaire, as she and a handful of her friends join a Skype call gone wrong. In real time, the audience follows the narrative through a series of YouTube videos, text messages and frantic Facebook posts. Except for a few flashback videos, the characters are never in the same room and watch in horror as each is tested with their very lives one delete keystroke away from death. Not entirely successful, struggling to keep draw its audience into the core emotion of the conflict and drama, Unfriendly successfully takes a unique look at what scares today’s youth. But, whether the film will remain relevant in the next five years remains in question, it may be to keyed in on the specifics of this day and time. Certain to be a hit with teens and twenty-somethings, the found footage social horror flick will likely fail to register with older genre fans.

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While browsing the Internet about one year anniversary of the suicide of fellow student Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), Blaire (Shelley Hennig) receives a Skype chat call from her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm). The two begin to flirt making plans for the Senior prom until their friends jump on the call, Jess (Renee Olstead), Ken (Jacob Wysocki) and Adam (Will Peltz). What they do not immediately realize is that a mysterious sixth caller is on the chat with them. As they struggle to determine what or who the extra caller may be, they phone in their chief suspect Val (Courtney Havlerson). It is not long before the caller, who has taken over their computers, begins to reveal she may be Laura Barns…back from the grave, to take revenge on those who posted the embarrassing videos online bullying her into a horrible decision to take her own life.

Film Title: Unfriended

As told from the laptop screen of Blaire Lily, with none of its characters interacting directly with one another and told from the point of view of chat calls, text messages, uploaded videos and blog posts, Unfriended takes a unique and intriguing look at horror, possession and revenge. It also does so while sacrificing the opportunity to fully invest its audience in the characters and their plight. The result is as distant a connections as the lives these characters share within the 82 minutes on screen. At the same time, it also taps in on very real fears of some outside force taking over our computers, our technology and our lives by exposing secrets found saved in the digital recesses of our hard drives. And, later, by extension, those fears creep from the digital world into the characters very souls. That writer Nelson Greaves and director Levan Gabriadze are able to tap into this by sharing only the shared experience where all their characters are joined solely by their shared Skype call and their technology is extraordinary and, at times, terrifying. Their characters share their experience but are at the same time very alone to face their fears watching in horror as their friends suffer fates too horrifying to witness virtually unable to help in any real fashion.

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Greaves and Gabriadze also capitalize on a unique opportunity to expose how the teen mind works as their lead character often changes her mind while she types, erasing her messages, replacing them with reconstructed sentences. The two messages combined tell an entirely different story than either do alone. They raise the stakes as Blaire and Mitch communicate silently back and forth with text messages where their emotions are illustrated by changes in capitalization, spelling or the speed in which the messages are sent. They also manage the space on the screen to great effect as well as ominous alternate messages pop up in notices to the left or just below the main conversation occurring in text blocks or video streams. The addition of the “ghost” using countdowns in her messages ramp up the tension. The use of diverse methods in expressing the varied emotions and duplicity of communication throughout the film is far more complex than the visually simplistic display on screen suggests. The result is entertaining and interesting but not entirely satisfying.

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The cast of Unfriended are all excellent in their roles providing strong performances providing hints of humor, fear, suspicion, hurt and jealousy, all without the benefit of working alongside their co-stars. Shelley Hennig and Moses Jacob Storm as Blaire and Mitch get the most exposure as the film’s leads, they convincingly convey the relationship between the two. The group of teens quickly assemble to represent the click of school mates that everyone want to be around but no one truly likes. Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki and Courtney Havlerson each bring a naturalistic, realistic approach, demeanor and tone to their characters with Wysocki being saddled with the comedy relief throughout as he switches from alcohol to weed to electronic cigarettes in his nervous desperations to stay on top of the events and attacks. The film reaches its heights when the group begin looking at each other without the rose tinted glasses exposing their inner secrets and poor decisions and habits. The consequences are elevated and the cast successfully portray the impact and anguish as they face their own lives. Ironically, they almost steal all the horror out from under the grip of the ghost herself.

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With Unfriended, Blumhouse have another moderately successful, if uneven, horror film in their roster. The film explores its narrative with a unique found footage approach exposing every twist and turn within the confines of a single laptop screen. The film manages to squeeze out a little social commentary on cyper-bullying and the mind set of the millennial generation where social media trump personal interaction. The characters are forced to experience the horror thrust upon them in a shared environment but ultimately all alone. It is a world where even your closest friends are a tweet, Facebook post or face time connection away but rarely physically by each others side. Writer Nelson Greaves and director Levan Gabriadze seize every opportunity to tell their story within the confines of the digit medium presented on Blaire monitor, but, even with the terrific casting, struggle to draw the audience fully into the story itself. The lack of direct interaction between the characters colors and shapes the experience of the audience as well. Unfriended still manages to stir up a scare or two but falls just shy of fully investing the imagination and fear of its audience.

3 out of 5

This post was written by Doc Rotten
Doc Rotten is a film critic for Gruesome Magazine and podcast host for Horror News Radio, Monster Movie Podcast, Decades of Horror: 1970s, Decades of Horror 1980s, The American Horror Story Fan Podcast, Hannibal Fan Podcast and The Future of Horror. He was also co-host Dracula on TV TALK and was a contributing reviewer for HorrorNews.Net and Widescreen Warrior. He is also a lifelong fan of horror films, sci-fi flicks and monster movies first discovering Universal Monsters and Planet of the Apes as a young child in the 1970's searching out every issue of Famous Monster of Filmland (and, later, Fangoria). Favorite films include Jaws, The Car, The Birds, The Tingler, Vampire Circus and The Exorcist.