Horror films come in many forms and deal with a wide variety of menacing things, but one thing that makes a good horror movie is having characters that are likeable and that you truly worry for their safety. Without characters to care for there would then have to be a truly creepy atmosphere(The Woman in Black), a compelling villain (Silence of the Lambs), or, at the very least to make it entertaining, some truly creative ways to dispatch your victims (the Final Destination series). In recent years many films have opted to embrace some modern technology and present the “found footage” movies, beginning with The Blair Witch Project and lately used in Project Almanac. Director Leo Gabriadze (Lucky Trouble) and producer Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch) take things a bit further, and present us with Unfriended, a supernatural tale of revenge played out on a character’s computer screen as she live chats with friends. It’s certainly a unique idea, and a setting instantly identifiable with its teenage and early 20s target audience. But could such a cinematic experiment deliver on the scares to make a good horror film?
Sadly, the answer to that question is no. Part of the problem begins and ends with the characters. Blaire (Shelley Hennig) starts things off chatting with boyfriend Mitch (Moses Storm). The pair are interrupted mid cyber sex by their other friends- Adam (Will Peltz), Jess (Renee Olstead), Ken (Jacob Wysocki), and Val (Courtney Halverson)- and are soon joined by an unknown guest. Things get linked to a video of Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), who is embarrassed enough by a video of her being drunk at a party that she later commits suicide. The trailers weren’t subtle in revealing that the stranger is the ghost of Laura, who is a bit pissed off and looking to punish those who humiliated her. She then begins to taunt the group and lure them into a game, and one by one the group is dispatched online, all visible to the friends. And things progress as Laura seeks out the person responsible until the fairly predictable end. Mercifully, the film only runs a brisk 83 minutes, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
But the film never really generates any real scares or even suspense. It does barely hold onto your interest, but none of the characters are particularly likeable, so there’s never any sense of worry for any of them. Plus long sections are silent, highlighted only by the beep of the computer as a new message pops up. Having us read these text screens slows things up quite a bit, and even makes things a bit boring. Yet you need to read these texts if you wish to know what’s going on. There is little background music, save the occasional snippet of a song from an online radio site. The scenes of the characters being forced to do themselves in is never shocking nor frightening (again, part of the blame here lies with the decision in how the film was marketed, as a lot of the bigger moments were shown in the trailers). The performances are all decent, but none of the cast really stands out. The problem is we never know enough to care, and even that could be lived with if the characters were at least likeable. But they’re not. Even Laura doesn’t generate any real sympathy, so we can’t even feel for her or get behind her revenge. In one sense the movie does realistically convey the dangers of an online existence, and how one mistake or foolish choices can lead to tragedy. Had more been made of that, and possibly even a lesson imparted, this film could have been so much more than what it is.
Unfriended all boils down to being a cinematic experiment, and the filmmakers should be at least commended for trying something different in the horror genre. Sadly, the lack of strong characters for us to care about coupled with boring stretches of reading text messages rob the movie of any suspense. The trailers already telegraphed the scares, which weren’t very effective to begin with. It all ends with the standard cliched image (meant to shock but failing to do so), but thankfully it only takes up 83 minutes of your time. Had this had just a bit more in character development this truly could have been a parable for the technological age we live in. As it is it’s just another forgettable teen horror flick that’s best left for a rental, if you need to see it at all.
Unfriended is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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