There are many who believe that 2015’s It Follows reinvigorated the horror genre and is an instant classic. I am not one of those people. While it had an intriguing idea (an evil spirit that is passed via sexual intercourse) and was stylistically directed by David Robert Mitchell, I took umbrage with a horror film that establishes rules and then doesn’t follow them. And don’t even get me started on the racial implications of a group of white suburban Michiganders who are afraid to go to Detroit – until they need a prostitute.
A month after I saw It Follows, I luckily happened upon Unfriended. I went into the screening with low expectations, it seemed like another entry into what Roger Ebert dubbed the “Dead Teenager Movie.” About half through I was sucked in and by film’s end I was pleasantly surprised. Here is a film that keeps things simple, taps into the fear of/reliance on social media, and doesn’t overstay its welcome at a mere 83 minutes.
From director Levan Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves comes this ominous tale of an online group chat gone wrong. Six friends gather for what seems to be their nightly incessant digital gab fest. There’s nothing too remarkable about this group that includes Blaire (Shelley Hennig), Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm), Adam (Will Peltz), Jess (Renee Olstead), Ken (Jacob Wysocki), and Val (Courtney Halverson). It’s mentioned that it’s the one-year anniversary of the suicide of a fellow classmate: Laura (Heather Sossaman) took her own life shortly after an embarrassing video made its way around. Subsequently, a mystery guest finds their way into the conversation. No points for guessing who is revealed to be tormenting the gang.
One by one, these unwilling participants will be tested and played against each other in an escalating series of games from “Truth or Dare” to “Never Have I Ever.” Everything that transpires is seen from the vantage point of Blaire’s laptop with multiple screens and pop-ups. It’s a bit disorienting at first, so allow yourself some time to adjust. Per IMDB, the film was shot in one take, as the actors found themselves doing longer and longer takes until it just felt like a play – so there’s an element of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope present.
Essentially, Unfriended is a gimmick movie, not unlike the Final Destination or Paranormal Activity series. But it just happens to be a good gimmick movie. None of these characters are particularly likeable or redeemable and yet I found myself absorbed. There is no pleasure in seeing homicidal vengeance being played out but it does play as a strange cautionary tale. I am not looking forward to the upcoming sequel Unfriended: Dark Web (and probable ensuing series) but I have no qualms about recommending the original. Unfriended works