Online your memories last forever, but so do your mistakes. In the new film UNFRIENDED, a group of teens find out that their actions online have consequences, as the vengeful ghost of Laura Barns returns on the anniversary of her death to torment her so-called former friends. Laura demands to know which of them posted the video that led to her suicide in the wake of unbearable cyber-bullying. If they don’t comply with her demands or try to if they try to log off, she’ll make them go offline permanently.
I need to preface my review with an explanation regarding my expectations for the film. When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I was ecstatic, then disappointed, then angry. When the trailer started, I initially thought the film was going to be a real-time technological update of Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. I began to imagine that one friend in this group, upset with Laura’s suicide, had used their knowledge of technology to create a scenario to punish those who had bullied her and find out who posted the video that led to her death, all while making it look like it was the result of Laura’s vengeful ghost. My mind immediately began to race with thoughts of how carefully the plot of this film would have to be constructed, and the massive amount of planning the perpetrator would have to do to make this plan work. All of this excitement dissipated when halfway through the trailer they made it very clear that in fact, a ghost was responsible for what’s happening. Normally, I’m the first person in the room to advocate a film having a supernatural spin, but after getting really excited at the idea of someone constructing a Xanatos-style plan to uncover the truth and avenge their friend, all my thoughts about what could have happened overshadowed any other thoughts about what the movie might be. It reminded me of how the film DEVIL had a great set up for a Hitchcock-style thriller but instead decided to opt out of being grounded in reality by having the killer actually be the Devil. In my mind, it just seemed like someone came up with a really clever idea for a murder-mystery, then when they couldn’t think of how this technological feet would be accomplished, decided that, “Ummm….Ghost!” sufficed as an explanation in lieu of any intricate planning.
The only reason I bring this up is to emphasize how much I wished to dislike the film when I sat down to watch it. But when the film got going, I couldn’t help but admire how ambitious the project was and how much thought and effort went on behind the scenes. While I had written off the premise as a cop-out, a tremendous amount of work had actually gone into bringing this project to the big screen. I don’t want to say that the social commentary in this film is wholly original, as the idea of viral videos leading people to extreme actions has been done before in films like 2008’s UNTRACEABLE, in which a serial killer used the amount of views he receives in the livestreams of his murders to actually set off his death traps. Even the idea of using different forms of video communication has been explored in films like 2012’s THE BAY, where an entire subplot revolved around a FaceTime conversation, and in 2014’s OPEN WINDOWS.
That being said, the amount of continuous shots and the massive amount of editing used to create this film is nothing short of impressive. The film is told entirely from the perspective of the computer screen belonging to our main character Blaire. The film is one of the few I’ve ever seen done in real-time, and yet it’s paced in a way that doesn’t drag on nor does it feel rushed. Something to be admired about this film is the incredible about of information Blaire conveys by what she chooses not to type and how long it takes her to answer questions, to click on certain links, etc. All of these actions convey so much about Blaire and about what she’s going through without saying a single word. A great deal of this movie was improvised, so all of the performances feel incredibly natural and relatable.
For all my griping about how much I didn’t approve of the film having a supernatural element as a core component of the plot, I found myself oddly engrossed by the way the story was being told. Laura’s spirit seems to embody an amalgamation of the demon from PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and Jigsaw from SAW, psychologically tormenting her victims with a vindictive game while not being bound by the rules of normal human limitations. It was actually pretty enthralling to see how she would use the technology that we rely on each day to torture her former friends. Her victim’s reactions also manage to feel incredibly genuine, as many of Blaire’s action are precisely what many people in her situation would do, such as going to Google to look up unfamiliar terms, sending links in private messages to convey information discretely, and using different forms of online communication to try to call for help. Perhaps it’s because I’m a millennial who regularly uses Facebook, Youtube, and the like, but I found the film to be incredibly relatable, despite being a story about the supernatural. The film didn’t feel gimmicky; it legitimately felt they were using components of the “found footage” medium to tell a story more about how we currently communicate online than about ghosts.
I do take a little bit of an issue with the ending of the film, which I won’t spoil for you here, but even so, at the end of the day I really enjoyed this film. When the credits rolled, I left the theater wanting to put this movie in a time capsule, as it feels like a great snapshot of the technological here and now. I want to watch it ten years from now not only to see how it holds up, but to see how differently we communicate in 2025 compared to how we do in 2015. I will say that if you’re not a fan of horror movies, this probably won’t be the film to change your mind. If you are a horror movie fan, but one that’s tired of the “found footage” genre, I still say that this one is worth a watch. Watching the movie in a crowded theater was great fun, but what I’m really looking forward to is for the film to come out on VOD so that I can watch the film on my computer screen with the lights out, as I think that’s probably the most effective way to view this movie given its POV. Whether you go out to catch it opening weekend or wait until it hits Netflix to watch it on your laptop, make sure you check out this movie. Just remember to think twice about what you post online about it afterwards; Laura doesn’t seem to be the type of ghost who takes constructive criticism very well.
UNFRIENDED will be released in theaters April 17, 2015.
~ Megan Salinas
Follow me on Twitter at: @themenguin