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UNFRIENDED (review)

unfriended_ver2UNFRIENDED

Written by Nelson Greaves / Directed by Levan Gabriadze / Starring Heather Sossaman, Matthew Bohrer and Courtney Halverson

Filmmakers, and horror filmmakers especially, have had an incredibly difficult time adapting with the ever-changing online landscape. We’ve seen it when it comes to finding convenient ways for us to watch films online – though between the constantly evolving steaming services and VOD, our days get brighter and brighter every day – but we’ve also seen it in terms of finding cinematically interesting ways to utilize the casual nature in which we now traverse the online world. We’ve certainly tried; BBC Sherlock’s execution of texting was a particularly inspired bit of work back in 2009 that would later be accepted as the norm for many other shows/films. However commonly, even now, things like social media – though sometimes addressed, or used as a narrative device – is still typically used in an unnatural, condescending fashion.

CYBERNATURALREV

This is where the latest low-budget horror film UNFRIENDED decidedly flourishes, applying a new gimmick that sees a murderous, cyber-bullied ghost done in a real-time, found-footage-esque narrative captured through the Macbook screen of a teen girl. On a strictly superficial level, it’s easy to see how a movie like this could go so, so wrong, but most impressively, UNFRIENDED chooses not to use the Internet as a ham-fisted, dated indictment of the thing so many of us spend all day nonchalantly connected to – as any filmmaker over the age of 25 likely would’ve done – but as the casual, ordinary presence we truly greet it with on a daily basis, perhaps becoming the first truly great cinematic depiction of social media and our Internet lives.

Whether that makes it a truly great film is still up for debate; even by horror movie standards it maintains some pretty tired tropes (“I’m gonna go check it out, guys!”) and isn’t all that scary for a film boasting itself as the next THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. That being said, what it lacks in scares, it makes up for in execution. The previously mentioned real-time, Macbook screen gimmick does wonders for the film both in terms of characterization and dramatizing the unfolding events, which is amazing considering how, again, filmmakers have really struggled to find cinematically interesting ways to do this kind of thing. Just a quick glance around Blaire’s (Shelley Hennig) computer screen is far more intimate and personal than most of the character work in today’s mainstream horror films. You feel like you know this girl just by the way she organizes her desktop (so messy!), her typing habits (damn autocorrect!) the way she switches between windows (multi-tasking!), even the tabs she has open (Forever 21! Tumblr!). There’s an authenticity, a realism to this computer screen, and the way this girl uses it that brings an extra level of dread – it’s so easy to imagine yourself moving the cursor around the same way she is and I’d by lying if I said I didn’t share a lot of the online habits she does.

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And though the film eventually falters in its horror thrills, some of the ways these kids die – and the way the Internet conveniently cuts out and lags as it happens – is kind of dramatically inert, not building or pacing its tense moments as excellently as it executes its gimmick. Still, the central metaphor of the digital world being as casually dangerous as the real one works, leaving you with some subtly terrifying ideas beyond that of the – maybe – poorly judged cyber-bullying aspect that some might read as sensationalism.

UNFRIENDED won’t be the strongest horror film you see this year, or the most enthralling – IT FOLLOWS is a tough act to beat – but it’s just clever and inventive enough in terms of filmmaking that it more than deserves its short time in the spotlight, and besides, any film that can make the anonymous Skype icon terrifying deserves some credit.

3.5 sheep

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How many sheep would you give Unfriended?

3.6 (71.67%) 12 votes

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