Review: Unfriended

2015/04/16 21:15:53 +00:00 | Heather Wixson

Tapping into the dangers of evolving technology and how detrimental social media can be when used for bullying is Unfriended. The surprisingly intense cyber-thriller follows a group of friends on the one-year anniversary of the suicide of one of their classmates who took her life after being relentlessly tormented after an embarrassing video of her was released online. As they begin Skyping with each other and immersing in the usual nonsensical teenage drama and chit-chat, something sinister has joined in on the fun and wants to play a deadly game where whoever loses will pay the ultimate price.

Unfriended is completely contained within the computer screen of Blaire (Shelly Hennig), the longtime friend of suicide victim Laura Barns, an approach from writer Nelson Greaves and director Levan Gabriadze that adds a nice level of realism to the overall story. By allowing viewers to feel like they’re immersed inside of the mystery alongside Blaire as she uses her computer and the online tools at her disposal to try and figure out just who- or what- is trying to kill her and her friends- her desperation and quick-thinking is mimicked through the frenetic clicks and movments around her glowing screen. It might be easy to think that a film made up entirely of the online experience would become wearisome over time but Gabriadze smartly utilizes this confined space to its maximum and the risks he takes as a storyteller pay off in the end (barring a stinger that feels a bit tacked on in Unfriended’s final moments- it feels forced and the film truly didn’t need it).

The film’s ensemble of young, up-and-coming talent all turn in rather solid performances, demonstrating a nice chemistry together and are very believable as friends who have known each other for some time. Their banter all feels like you’ve just walked in on any random conversation teenagers would be having at any given time and that kind of authenticity to the dialogue and delivery adds yet another touch of verisimilitude to Unfriended. You need those relationships in place so when the proverbial pile of dung hits the fan, you actually give a damn about these kids; many modern horror movies overlook this detail so I appreciate that the movie actually takes the time (but not too much time) establishing the characters and their complicated relationships.

Unfriended also works well due to Gabriadze’s attention to pacing (clocking in under 90 minutes) and never really allowing tensions to let up once the mysterious entity decides to play some games with its intended victims. And while there several great moments of tension, Unfriended earns most of its R rating due to the film’s material more so than any sort of onscreen violence, which is a shame because there are some nasty kills that are inferred and would have been really fun to experience onscreen. Something else that would have been cool was if Gabriadze used the distorting technical blips as a way to mess with our minds a bit and threw in some subversive scares in the background. What you see is what you get here and, for the most part, it works really well.

Overall, Unfriended ended up being a movie that sort of hit me out of left field and in the best possible way. I was expecting an empty-headed teen horror flick that was looking to rely on cheap jump scares (admittedly, the trailers didn’t do much to capture the best parts of the film) but, instead, Gabriadze sticks with creating a palpable sense of tension that’s meant to creep up on you as the truth behind Laura Barns’ shocking suicide is revealed. Hardened genre fans may be hoping for something with a bit more grit and gore to it, but I rather enjoyed that Unfriended’s nasty streak was revealed in more character-driven ways. I also appreciated how Gabriadze and screenwriter Greaves both embraced technology as a means to tell their story and also used the very worst parts of that technology as a way to keep viewers wondering just what was going to happen next.

Movie Score: 3.5/5

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.