Monday, April 20, 2015 9:00 am ·  0 Comments
Effective horror movies are like encountering a majestic unicorn in a mundane world, they’re few and far between. Unfriended succeeds with an unapologetic, anti-bullying message. The real life possibility that we are never really safe, not even online.
Georgian-Russian director Levan Gabriadze’s debut feature captivates by using a novel gimmick: the entire 82-minutes unfold on a laptop screen. This is not your average found footage bloodbath, yet Gabriadze’s ideas aren’t exactly cutting edge. The Den (2013), a creepy indie horror in its own right, had similar “online is the scene of the crime” scenarios, and a segment from the ultra-violent anthology V/H/S (2012) shows a woman falling prey to ghastly predators via webcam.
In Unfriended, these devices are juxtaposed with what’s more or less a standard slasher flick. From its Blair Witch beginnings to recent superhero fusions like Chronicle and Afflicted, the few good apples create tension and fear organically. Whether it’s a file downloading slowly — containing inevitably destructive content to the lives of the characters — or a possessed girl, frozen on screen, staring dead-eyed with a bottle of bleach in front of her, Unfriended grows into something unique.
The story is rather elementary. A clique of nasty teens shared an embarrassing video of their drunken friend, Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), it goes viral and results in her committing suicide, which is also on camera and online for the world’s viewing pleasure. The anniversary of her death comes around when the teenagers are huddled together for a Skype video chat. Events become less Degrassi and more Paranormal Activity by the thirty minute mark.
Phantoms from the past rise as a savage game of “Never have I ever” unfolds. We watch in terror as Blaire (Shelly Hennig) zips around iMessage, Skype and Facebook, trying to make sense of the situation.
When the “ghost” is writing back, a familiar paranormal static buzzes, the sounds of new message alerts and panicked voices hollow. “Laura is typing…” flashes on and off screen, pounding in that ingrained anxious feeling we all know from time spent in an intense back and forth text battle. Is Laura offended? Why isn’t she responding right away? Maybe she’s forming a strategic answer. Blaire’s cursor whips around the screen, signalling her slow mental breakdown.
These looming vibes make us question how dangerous and uncertain our virtual interactions can become. Are we spending too much time online? Why do we hurt our friends and strangers by writing venomous comments under an anonymous veil? Everyone has secrets; imagine you woke up one day, your phone is exploding, someone has ruined your reputation with a single YouTube or Instagram upload. An earthly possibility that’s as terrifying as being haunted by a dead friend.