Spurred on by a fun trailer and glowing reviews from the press I headed out to see Unfriended this last Bank holiday weekend. It looked like the sort of film I’d usually wait till it was on Netflix but the reviews insisted this was a film-going experience worthy of the big screen. Unfriended follows the lives of a group of teenagers and the twist is the whole film takes place on Blaire’s computer screen. Everything we see/hear comes courtesy of her Facebook messages and Skype calls. Each character only appears in cyberspace in a small Skype square lit only by their screen’s eerie glow.
As the lights went down we were interrupted by a gang of around 10 or so teenage girls shrieking with excitement, lighting the way with their phones. They were pretty much the same age as the characters onscreen so they would probably be a good gage to see if the film meets the expectations of its intended audience.
It’s one year to the date that Blaire’s (Shelley Hennig) best ‘frenemy’ Laura (Heather Sossaman) committed suicide (Seen in the film’s opening as a YouTube video). Laura was suffering cyber-bulling after a prank video shaming her went viral. As the group of Laura’s friends type and chat on Skype a blank avatar appears that none of them can identify or hang up on. Soon this mystery guest starts creating havoc, uploading embarrassing pictures to Facebook that can’t be deleted and revealing the groups secrets turning them on each other with deadly results. The ghost-in-the-machine claims to be Laura back for revenge for the perpetrators of her lethal slut-shaming and no unlikeable teenager is safe.
Unfriended isn’t the first film to use the setting of a single screen as its gimmick, last year there was thriller Open Windows and The Den. Whilst the creation of Blaire’s computer screen and all the programs used is authentic, the experience of watching Unfriended feels like being at home on your own computer with a very very big screen. The whole film has a really static feel to it. Near the beginning a lengthy conversation happens between Blaire and her boyfriend entirely by Facebook messenger resulting in around 5 minutes of onscreen typing. This was incredibly tedious, one of the teenagers exclaimed ‘I don’t want to read’. As the film went on the girls in the audience didn’t really seem interested at all. ‘Why does it keep breaking up?’ and ‘You can’t even seem them die’ where other remarks tossed about during the film’s suspense sequences and character deaths and I would have to agree. There were two deaths that I couldn’t even make out. Any suspense built was removed by a frozen screen (buffering) that would go blank for 15 seconds only to be replaced with a pixelated screaming face at full decibel. There are some tense moments but these mostly amount to nothing or a loud bang. The cast themselves are quite believable in their callousness, throwing around misogynistic insults ‘bitch, whore etc..’ with a bored roll of the eyes. There is a nice moment where a secret camera is utilised but it leads nowhere except another loud bang and never appears again. As the film progresses the only real horror is the sight of several teenagers all screeching at each other at the same time, truly horrible. Perhaps it’s growing up without having any kind of social media that made me unsympathetic to their plight. Surely they could all just turn their phones and computers off and just hang out IRL (in real life) giving the Facebook-imprisoned spirit nowhere to go. One of the highlights of the experience was an exclamation of ‘You whore’ by one of the girls in the audience when an infidelity was revealed. Teenagers are harsh critics and Unfriended didn’t pass the test.
Ultimately Unfriended isn’t a film for teenagers but more for their parents who will be horrified at what their own spawn could be plotting alone in the dark. As is often the case, the trailer shows the best bits including the only death where you can actually see what happens. Save your money and check out the far superior The Den when it makes its way to the UK.
The best stuff is in the trailer, save your money or wait for it on Netflix.