Tuesday, April 21, 2015

[Review] Unfriended

The new Facebook horror film Unfriended seemed like it could've a cheap and obnoxious gimmick, possibly taking the found footage genre to its deathbed. But the result here is a fresh and intriguing twist on the format, and it works as a somewhat well-executed and cleverly disturbing cautionary tale for the social media generation.

It begins with a snuffy exploitation video (aka something you might see on Worldstar) of a high school teen named Laura, passed out drunk in a very unflattering manner. It turns out that the video spread throughout her school--going viral, and she ended up committing suicide because of it. Following the clip, a group of friends meet up on Skype, and an unknown user keeps intruding on their party. They think it's a glitch or a hacker at first, but they slowly realize it's the cyber spirit of Laura from beyond the grave, and she's out for some manipulative and bloody revenge.

The entire film is staged from the first-person viewpoint of a computer desktop screen, and everything is conveyed via browser windows, Skype sessions, and iMessage convos. It all works surprisingly well, as the filmmakers take full advantage of the compact yet vast technological universe. Suspense and anticipation is built through simple back & forth texts, Google searches, and Facebook notifications. Laura's spirit presence gains the upper hand, going from freaking the kids the fuck out, to giving them a taste of their own cyber-shaming antics. The climax evolves into the most intense and violent game of "Never have I ever" ...ever.

The characters are all super annoying, and you'll probably want to reach through the screen and punch them in the face, but it's most likely intentional, so you just have to stomach it. And one does wonder if some of their reactions are realistically apt for the situation. The conclusion feels right, though. However, the final fatality could've used a bit more jarring creativity. But aside from that, Unfriended is harshly contemporary and relevant, and the kids here have a lot more to worry about than just a lagging pinwheel. The film itself won't frighten you all that much, that is, unless you too have something you might be feeling guilty about.


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