'Unfriended' review: A creepy & effective horror gem of the digital age
Just as the supernatural horror and "found footage" genres began to feel stale, then comes along the creative and unexpectedly refreshing "Unfriended" (in theaters nationwide April 17), a movie that will surely rank among the best of the "found footage" sub-genre.
In short: A group of friends in an online chat room are terrorized by a supernatural force using the account of their dead friend - a girl who committed suicide after being cyberbullied. (Watch the trailer)
The gimmick of "Unfriended" is the entire movie is "set" in the computer screen of the main character's laptop during the entire online chat and each character is only seen through their respective laptop webcam. "Unfriended" is an incredibly effective and entertaining horror thriller because it wholesale commits to its risky gimmick, one that allows the audience intimate insight into the protagonist and creates a claustrophobic atmosphere for the clique of friends.
First off: yes, this movie is predictable in formula - in that - any horror flick focused on a group of teens surely means they will be relentlessly picked off one by one. Secondly, "Unfriended" admittedly leans heavily on cheap scares, often resorting to easy ploys of the horror genre designed solely to create "jump in your seat" moments. Normally, being a formulaic horror movie that's a bit too reliant on jarring scares would be a death sentence, but "Unfriended" rises above those flaws because it absolutely capitalizes on its odd gimmick.
The entire film's perspective is from the laptop screen of Blaire, who is dating one of the guys in the group chat and had been a close friend of Laura, who killed herself one year earlier. "Unfriended" takes full-advantage of the "movie set in a laptop screen" gadget by giving the audience a compelling insight into Blaire's thoughts and actions as the group chat descends into terror.
Blaire often types out her honest and genuine thoughts, only to hesitate and self-censor her messages before hitting "send." The audience gets to a private glimpse into Blaire's sincere thoughts about Laura, her boyfriend and her friends in the rough drafts of her instant messages - before she revises them to more palatable versions of her innermost thoughts. The flipside is also true - the gimmick injects the film with frenetic energy as Blaire machine guns off a flurry of raw, typo-riddled IMs in the movie's most heightened moments.
"Unfriended" also works because it turns virtually everything about the Internet these kids love against them. If you want to watch a suicide video, there's a website for that. If you want to share your most private moments, there are sites for that. Anyone sending harassing or unwanted messages can be reported and blocked -- except when they can't. There's a casual familiarity with everything Blaire and her friends do while online that is relatable and accessible. Of course a teen would turn to Google when they're being harassed by a supernatural force - that's just what people do these days when they don't know the answer to a problem. The disembodied, antagonistic spirit forces the teens to post pictures they want hidden, forces them to watch videos they want to ignore and forces them to reveal truths they want buried. If the Internet represents freedom and control, "Unfriended" takes those two cherished elements away from its characters.
Final verdict: "Unfriended" is a welcomed and creative entry into the "found footage" horror sub-genre that overcomes its predictable and cheap startling bits. For a genre as visceral as horror, this movie absolutely succeeds bringing the audience along for this dread-inducing and creepy supernatural thrill ride.
"Unfriended" opens in theaters nationwide April 17 and is rated R for violent content, pervasive language, some sexuality, and drug and alcohol use - all involving teens.