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Found-footage goes social media, with remarkably spooky results. Though there’s really no build-up of the Big Haunting Bad beyond “she’s dead”, Unfriended lets you feed your voyeuristic tendencies and delivers genuine chills. Grade: B+
Poor Laura. You go to one backwoods kegger and really get sheisse-faced (almost literally in this case), and some douchecanoe posts your horrible night on YouTube. What’s a girl to do? Well, Laura killed herself. And a year later, a group of her friends — who seem to be hopelessly addicted to Skype — find there’s an outsider in their group call. An outsider with the subscriber info Laura used to use. As the night progresses, these six friends go from annoyed to horrified…to dead. Let’s just say I’ll never again play “Never Have I Ever” without getting a slight chill.
Yeah, this is another “found footage” genre flick. But as it’s about modern high schoolers — and how technology can get hacked by The Beyond — it works here. Excellent use of all the social media things; from Skype to Facebook, YouTube to Spotify, they’re used just like you’d use ‘em at home. Director Levan Gabriadze gets a special high-five for his use of Spotify as voice/playlist-from-beyond. Nice touch. There’s also a nice touch to the film editing, with it’s quick-cuts and constant rapid flashes from one Skype account to another, from Skype to YouTube to Spotify to Facebook and it’s rapidly growing comment feeds.
Two things thew me about this film. The first? Laura herself. Earlier press info had said that Laura was “a vicious bully” before her suicide. But there’s nothing about the kind of person Laura was before the video, or after. She’s simply someone these kids knew and were friends with, who had a horrible video posted about her when she was at her weakest. Perhaps some editing cut the negative view of the victim in order to make the kids that bite it seem more deserving of their fate? Not sure, but I kept waiting to see more about who Laura was…to no avail. [Note: I notice all mention of Laura being a bully before her shaming has been cut from IMDb. So perhaps this was indeed a change of direction for the storyline.]
The second? The complete lack of tech savvy behavior on the part of these Generation Z kids. They click open JPG images sent from unknown sources, don’t know how to clear Skype, and install strange downloads. Heck, according to the backstory Laura had been dead for a year, and yet nobody had memorialized her Facebook page? That helps the story along, but didn’t help me get lost in the moment. Instead, I kept thinking “why didn’t anyone do [X]?” And nobody ever thought of ditching their laptops and running over to [X friend who just drew the death short straw] rather than simply watching said friend die on camera? Of course, I could say the same thing about stupid teens in 80s horror flicks — going outside in the dark when you know there’s a killer? In your underwear? — so perhaps I’m just being curmudgeonly. Get off my lawn!
Kudos to screenwriter Nelson Greaves (Sleepy Hollow) for being able to combine cyberbullying, teen suicide and straight-up horror in such an effective, creepy way. But what really resonated with me was the way Unfriended played with who the Big Bad really was. Laura might possibly have been a Queen Bee when she was alive (and is definitely a force to be reckoned with after death), but as the story unfolds her former friends end up thoughtlessly turning on each other as things get progressively worse. Who is the real evil entity? Perhaps not Laura…