'Unfriended' (2015)/Directed by Leo Gabriadze/Grade: B+
Now this one, I feel, deserves way more attention. That may seem strange, given the film's initial buzz when it released in 2015. Both critics and audiences were sharply divided into two groups: it was either smarter than the premise suggested, or just as bad as the premise suggested. But in the eight years since then, Unfriended has faded out of public conversation. It's time for a second look.
The story follows a small group of high school friends on a Skype video chat- Blaire (Shelley Hennig), her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Storm), Adam (Will Peltz), Jess (Renee Olstead), Ken (Jacob Wysocki) and Val (Courtney Halverson)- when their casual conversation is suddenly interrupted by a mysterious, faceless new member. Initially under the assumption it's a hacker, everybody leaves the call, shuts off their computers, and reboots. However, it's to no avail. Eventually, they start to realize it's the spirit of their dead former friend, Laura Barns (Heather Sossamon), who committed suicide due to severe cyberbullying after someone anonymously posted an embarrassing video of her at a party. Soon after, people start to get picked off one by one.
This is objectively silly, and a suitably on-the-nose critique on the dangers of cyberbullying through the guise of a genre film. Additionally, critics and audiences found each other split were its characters. Unlike in a lot of horror movies, where you ideally are meant to care about the inhabitants of the world, everybody in Unfriended (2015) is obnoxiously unlikable. However, that adds to the movie's commentary, in showing how fake friends can show their real, ugly selves when posting on social media. Each character here has something to hide behind their superficial pleasantries and smiles, and once those skeletons are brought out of the closet, it's like The Joker once said: "I'll show you, when the chips are down, these, uh, these 'civilized' people... they'll eat each other." It's a rare instance where the characters' annoying personalities actually involve me more as a result.
That also, in effect, makes the performances and writing for all of the characters quite naturalistic and accurate. You believe they all know each other, and get the feeling you've met people like them, because you probably have. This lends to the credibility of their hostile and defensive reactions to being called out, once Laura's ghost starts a game of Never Have I Ever, and everybody's sleights against each other are forced into the open. They've never had to face consequences for their actions, and live incredibly privileged lives, so of course they'd feel this entitled to everything going their way, and thus have such a knee-jerk response to something that doesn't go their way.
The horror stuff is pretty standard, as Laura's spirit possesses each wrongdoer and takes them out in various gruesome ways, along with some traditional jump scares. Where the real tension and fear comes from is that dread in between, wondering whatever horrible truth is going to be revealed next, and wondering how it's going to tear apart these friends even further. Because there is some sad reality underneath the scares, it makes it more frightening, and timelessly relevant, than expected.
If you're a horror fan and you've never heard of this picture, or you're debating whether to give it a shot, definitely do so. It's short, sweet and to-the-point at eighty-three minutes long, it's got some smart commentary, and the paranormal genre trappings as the cherry on top. What more could you want?
You can watch the trailer for Unfriended here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lgj4GjqCFlY
You can also rent or buy the film right here: https://youtu.be/4MoRJLV2iNQ