Fright pictures that utilize a computer tend to fail miserably, often inventing technology or online rules to fit the situation. Unfriended is refreshingly minimal with its tech, allowing everyday tools, such as Skype and Facebook, to set the scene for a nightmare that’s more about intimidation than overt violence. It actually works. At the very least, the feature retains a real-world feel as it zips through heated searches, accusatory conversations, and poor Internet speeds.
Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Sure, all the problems in Unfriended could be solved by unplugging the computer, but where’s the fun in that?
Settling in for an evening of Skype-assisted phone sex with boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm), Blaire (Shelley Henning) is snapped to attention by the sudden appearance of her friends, Ken (Jacob Wysocki), Adam (Will Peltz), and Jess (Renee Olstead), who’ve been dropped into the conversation.
With everyone confused, the meeting goes on, discussing the one-year anniversary of classmate Laura’s (Heather Sossaman) suicide after a humiliating video was posted online.
Realizing their online chat is being manipulated by an entity who claims to be Laura, the group freaks out, trying desperately to get rid of this unwanted visitor who plays deadly games of truth-telling.
Realizing that if they lie or refuse to participate, they die, Blaire and her friends suffer through a long evening of confession, witnessing the slaughter of those who reject Laura’s deadly attention.
Unfriended takes place entirely on Blaire’s laptop, with the audience permitted access to layers of browser activity and media players. She’s initially connected to Mitch, playing unsettling games that suggest her virginal status may not be accurate, but the pair is quickly joined by their classmates.
Engaging in banal conversation with her pals, Blaire is contacted by Laura through Facebook, kicking off a series of messages to Mitch, who shares a website with his love that underlines the importance of ignoring communications from the dead.
Of course, this advice comes too late. Blaire soon realizes that Laura’s threats aren’t coming from a hacker or a prankster, but from the dead girl herself.
Unfriended doesn’t qualify as subtle, but director Leo Gabriadze has a way of inventively sneaking in vital information, tracking Blaire’s thought process as the teen types with open honesty, only to delete the truth and soften her blows. We learn little pieces of Laura’s damaged past and the extent of her friendship with Blaire, which is cemented in a memorial Facebook page.
Most of the story is shared through web investigation, not always exposition, giving some unique heft to the sleuthing efforts and critical discoveries. Laura graduates to electronic manipulation, messing with Blaire’s music selections and Blaire’s attempts to shut down the Facebook menace when Laura’s ghost begins posting sensitive information.
Terror is spread around the clique, and violence does play a part. Yet as a slasher-style thriller, the story is more about secrets revealed than a pile of dead bodies, watching Laura dredge up confidential information, playing a game called “Never Have I Ever” as a way to turn the gang on one another.
It’s unusual in this day and age to find a film that’s willing to allow confession to be the murder weapon, and it’s entertaining to watch Unfriended side with the killer. Forget their thinly-guarded evil behavior; with their text-style typing filling up 80 minutes of screentime, these kids deserve their damnation.
The acting is what one might expect from this type of low-budget effort, and characterizations are decidedly lazy. Ken, the overweight one of the group, is a sexless pothead who knows everything about computers. But Unfriended has a snappy pace, shows comfort with silence, and delivers a few good scares.
Sure, all the problems could be solved by unplugging the haunted machines, but where’s the fun in that? We need these teens to click clearly diseased links and bicker with one another while a ghost eggs them on. It’s ridiculous, but when executed this competently, the absurd becomes riveting.