Computer technology, and the power that goes with it, has been a subject of horror stories since it’s humble beginnings back in the punchcard and UNIVAC days. From Cold War terrors like The Forbin Project and Fail Safe to fearful tales of technology-gone-wrong like Westworld and 2001: A Space Odyssey, to even more extreme takes like The Lawnmower Man (I know, I know…but it is a computer horror tale…sort of), most of these always leaned toward the “computer-as-monster” trope, with our fears of creating an intelligence greater than our own that sees us as inferior as the coal in that pot-bellied stove of horror. These films most often kept us, as a people, lumped together in an “us vs. it” mentality, the technological evil reflected as a threat to all mankind. Modern times have taken techno-based horror in a different, more personal direction, with films like FearDotCom, Smiley, Girl House, The Den, and others using the tech as a tool for the boogeyman to use rather than being the boogeyman itself, following along with the propensity of technology to become a bigger and bigger part of our lives; as always, good horror takes whatever is the current mindset of normalcy and twists it into something we can all relate to…and thus, be afraid of.
Unfriended is an ambitious little flick by Levan Gabriadze that takes our current paradigm of socialization via electronic means and turning it into a conduit for supernatural occurrences…but this time around, the “ghost in the machine” is out for blood…
Teenaged Blaire is checking out a LiveLeak video of a girl’s suicide; a girl that she and her friends went to school with. Following this harrowing moment, she is invited to a Skype chat with a few of her friends, including her boyfriend, Mitch. The group chats multi-screened about the usual teenage stuff, while Blaire and Mitch have some private message conversation out of everyone else’s sight. Through it all, they recall that today is the anniversary of Laura Barns’ suicide; the very same suicide Blaire had been watching the video of. Now, everyone has varied opinions of Laura, but none of them seem overly pleasant…and during this conversation, they notice more and more that an unseen member of the chat that they earlier thought was a glitch seems to be talking to them…passing on messages to them, claiming to actually be the late Miss Barns. The crew checks Facebook pages, emails — one even calls the police, trying to get what they all believe to be a cruel prankster to cease this impersonation of their dead classmate. Nothing seems to work, and when one of their number appears to have a seizure, the mysterious persona demands that they remain online…to “play a game”.
This “game” draws out the darkest secrets held by each of the friends…all of their lives are laid bare to one another through the revelations of the seemingly omniscient player on the other side. As these skeletons are drug from their perspective closets, very, very bad things begin happening to the group. As their numbers dwindle, those that remain scramble to find out just who, or what, is plaguing them, and why? What does it want with them? And what does it have to do with the suicide of Laura Barns?
What do each of them have to do with it?
The entire film is shown from Blaire’s POV, with her computer screen actually being the screen we’re watching. As such, we get the email alerts, see all the windows she has open, hear the “ding” of her instant messages and so forth. Though I’ve heard this called gimmicky, I didn’t really find it as such, and kind of wish I’d actually watched the film on my computer; it would have really added something to it, I think.
Anyways, I found this aspect added to the vibe of the whole production, bringing a kind of “you’re part of the group” feeling; few films I’ve seen have captured this as well, although several have tried (The Den comes immediately to mind). The acting was, to my eyes, pretty convincing; now granted, I’m an old fart, and the vernacular used by teens these days is pretty much Greek to me, but I still got a pretty realistic feel from the way everyone handled the situations presented in the film. All the characters struck me as believable by and large, and honestly, they were pretty damned unlikable; of course, in the context of the film there’s a reason for this, but even without that I was entertained by the notion that this group could have been any self-absorbed clique of assholes that you or I both knew back in the day (if you didn’t know a group like that, do some soul-searching; you may have been part of one 🙂 ). There were no real WTF?!? moments that pushed me away from the story (well, at least up until the very end), although the pixilation and lag simulation, however much it may be realistic, got kind of annoying at times, especially when it was obviously used to cover the lower-end special effects. Still, the effects we do see are pretty visceral, and I daresay you’d find them memorable if not necessarily overwhelming. Finally, I mentioned the ending…well, without spoiling anything, I’ll just say it was a little predictable, a little out there, and something of a let down…but it didn’t ruin the flick for me.
All in all, I found Unfriended to be an entertaining watch; by it’s very nature it tends to drag a little in places, but it makes up for that by not only extending the time-honored slasher motifs of teens paying for their sins into the information age, but also touching upon the all-too-real issue of cyber-bullying, offering a horror-film look into the consequences of such callous behavior.
My two for this one.
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