I guess technology doesn’t have the final say. At least on platforms like Facebook and Skype.
We live in an era where having access to a device capable of serving the web is a given, and not having it only means that you have been living under a rock. Almost everyone these days can’t live a day without serving the web, be it for news, or online interactions. Yes, online interactions, since we humans have been programmed to be social creatures- ones that can’t live without social interactions. This concept might seem enticing to tackle, especially for a horror movie, but surprisingly, few have ever thought of translating this idea into a feature film. Is it because it’s really difficult to tackle this film, due to one’s lack of past references? You can’t deny, any film about social media (or interactions online or cyber bullying) is going to be damn relatable to most these days, since its probably the only one thing we can’t live without. Thankfully, there’s Unfriended, but can it fare well? Or should the idea have withdrew back into the writing board, and never came to fruition just yet (until a better idea on how to tackle it comes about).
Unfriended, at first glance, is a low budgeted film, with all of its setting taking place on a computer screen. Of course, every computer today has a webcam, so that’s used a lot as well, as far as real world settings and characters are concerned. However, that also happens to be the intriguing part- few films have ever employed such a concept of being seen from a first person perspective (as in, you see what the protagonist sees on her computer), though its effectiveness can be questioned (and will be talked about later on in the review). Unfriended, in other words, strikes a home run in terms of originality, an aspect particularly crucial in today’s age, where every other horror film is a haunted house, slasher or found footage film (okay, truthfully speaking, this film is part found-footage, since we are kinda viewing the cast through the computer’s webcam).
Unfriended strikes the core of most youngsters these days, due to its very focus- the threat of social media. Yes, social media is probably the single most important thing youngsters access these days over their phones or computers, be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat (or whatever kids these days are into). That’s where Unfriended probably succeeds the most, apart from originality- its frightening ability of making youngsters relate to this, more so than most other horror movies these days. That’s also where most of the scares come from- the paranoia of bullying on social media, and the creep factor derived from being stalked on social media. Unfriended doesn’t use any jump scares- its form of shooting doesn’t give it much of a choice (unless, of course, we are talking about sudden pop up boxes online, from those desperate advertisers trying to earn big bucks, with the loud music accompaniment). Instead, it relies heavily on the cast’s acting as well as their desperate attempts to remove their suspicious stalker to bring across the scares. Yes, being haunted by spirits who want a vengeance over the internet sounds ridiculous, but you can easily replace that with cyber bullying, and it all makes sense. My point being- Unfriended plays with youth’s obsession over social media, and one’s vulnerability online.
Unfriended is also splattered with emotions, thanks to the remarkable casting. Shelley Henig, particularly, was amazing- having had little theatrical roles before this, instead starring in TV series like Teen Wolf. She certainly breaks out here, and was much more impressive, compared to her rather brief cameo in Ouija (where she did not have the chance to show off her acting chops). The rest of the cast are nothing to scoff at, as all of them were amazing.
However, the one questionable aspect I have had of this film would be- is it even effective? This film seems geared to only one particular audience- the teens today, who are mostly tech-savvy. Grab your parents or grandparents, and they probably won’t understand the fuss about it. Apart from that, the movie seems like a bore at times. I can’t deny the fact that I was waiting for the film to be over quick (come on, Laura, why can’t you just go straight into making your point, instead of psychologically torturing both us and the cast?). The film drags on at times, with several unnecessary sequences worthy of removing. The problem about this film is, at times, we have to cope with endless typing on screen, which could have been resolved much faster had they been spoken verbally. The entire first half seems like a drag, with the plot not being established enough, apart from the point (who’s that stalker). If you came in without a single context, you would probably be left wondering- what exactly is this film about? Seriously- the film starts off as a mundane, typical but slightly more personal conversation one usually does on Skype- something that we ourselves don’t need to go through again, since we’ve probably had enough of it in our daily lives. (there’s a reason why we go into theaters for escapism) The final act is the only part which I can assure you is suspenseful, whereas the rest of the film falls behind in terms of quality. I think that it really is possible to condense this film under an hour, with the obvious caveat that the film would be too short afterwards (especially for a feature film). Yeah, the film does give me some goosebumps, but for such a film, just don’t expect much in the way of scares.
Unfriended is a really ambitious attempt at breaking out of the conventional cliche storylines that we have already came to expect time and time again. For that, it scores in originality and one’s ability to relate with the film, and this is further bolstered by the astounding all-rounded performance by the cast. Take away those ‘distractions’ though, and you really have a rather weak plot that really is slow to progress, and a film that might irritate you at times for just being a bore (and surprisingly, it is only 82 minutes long) If you don’t think your life envelops about social media and interactions, this film isn’t for you. Unfriended really falls short of lofty expectations, but being the first film ever in recent memory to tackle social media in the horror genre, shouldn’t be smirked at. There’s always a next time (there’s a sequel set for 2016), and hopefully it doesn’t go downhill from here. No definite recommendation here, except maybe for social media addicts.
And here’s my final verdict:
5.0/10 (6.0 if you’re a teen or youngster)
On a scale of A to F, where F means stupid and dumb and ridiculous, and anything that you possibly wouldn’t love, and where A symbolizes perfection,
Character Development: C+
Entertainment Factor: D+
Scares: C (more in the form of long-term)