To anyone who has ever visited this blog, human or spambot, you might have noticed that I, John Alowishus Otteni, am a proud supporter of found footage horror films. For many, this gimmick has been old (and nauseating) since Day 1, when three dumbasses wandered into the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland to shoot a documentary about witches and then some guy stares at a wall or something and it’s over.
For me, this Cinéma vérité (French term for someone who can’t hold a camera straight) style of filmmaking feels more relevant than ever. Look in your pocket. What do you see? A camera. How about on your computer? You see what I’m getting at? In today’s go-go gadget wristwatch society, cameras are everywhere filming everyone and everything at all times. That being said, there’s no better time than the present to capitalize on this idea.
Unfriended is something new. Regardless of its actual quality, you have to commend it for being fresh. If you’ve never heard of Unfriended it’s probably because you’re not a 16-year-old. Unfriended is a horror film done entirely over a computer screen in real time. Yes, for 83 minutes you watch what is essentially a ghost slasher flick through Facebook, Skype, and Gmail. Sorry, Snapchat fans, your horror movie will have to wait. The film’s plot concerns a group of teens being haunted via social media by the ghost of their dead friend. Hilarity ensues. Although I’m not sure that was intentional.
WARNING: Before I continue I must inform you that this review will have spoilers. I’m going to spoil the whole movie. So if you still want to see this movie then stop reading here. Don’t feel bad, though, reading is for losers anyways. 🙂
Unfriended is told through the screencast of typical teen Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig). You know she’s a typical teen because she likes cool things like Forever 21 and Teen Wolf, both of which are present in the tabs section of her browser. She uses Google Chrome by the way. No Internet Explorer. We don’t want the film to be TOO scary.
Blaire heads to YouTube where she watches a video of her former bestie, Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), committing suicide by gunshot. Not sure who filmed it. Did someone point a camera and say, “I wonder if this girl is gonna do something crazy if I stand here and film for no reason?” Well, something does, and even after a year, Blaire hasn’t gotten over it. We also learn that Laura killed herself after an embarrassing viral video of her surfaced online. What could be so devastating as to make a young girl kill herself? We don’t find out until later.
Blaire is Skyped by her boyfriend Mitch Roussel (Moses Jacob Storm) who has no defining traits other than he wants to bone. Sorry Mitch, gotta wait ’till prom night. Things get a little steamy between the two over video chat, as things often do on Skype, until they are interrupted by their three friends: Jess (Renee Olstead), Adam (Will Peltz), and Ken (Jacob Wysocki).
Let me take this opportunity to note that all of these characters can be described using one word. Blaire: concerned, Mitch: boring, Jess: blonde, Adam: douche, Ken: fat. And not to pick on the fat guy, but he does not fit in with this group. He’s a fat slob and everyone else looks like cast members from Laguna Beach. Oh my god, did I date myself by referencing a ten-year-old show and using it as a modern representation of young people? Did I say “young people”? Back to fatty, my guess is that they keep him around for his computer programming ability, which does come in handy later. I wish the real world worked like that.
The convo starts and right away Blaire notices something is wrong. A faceless account with the screen name billie227 has joined their friendly little video chat, and they can’t get rid of it. Laura’s Facebook account then starts sending cryptic messages to all of her former friends, angry ones.
Around this point we learn that apart from Blaire, everyone hated Laura because she was a super bitch, pardon my language. Still, no one wants to jump to crazy conclusions so they theorize this little prank must be the doing of a snotty girl named Val Rommel (Courtney Halverson). What do they do? They add her to the conversation. Yes, that’s now six people in the group video chat. Never have I seen Skype work that well with so many people in video chat. I can’t even do Google Video Chat with four people before it crashes. Then again, that’s Google Video Chat. Even ghosts are too cool for that.
The group talks to Val, who is quickly vindicated when embarrassing photos of her smoking da ganja and drinking beer surface on her Facebook timeline. Facebook says they were posted by Jess although she denies it and deletes it. Though as soon as they are taken down, the photos are posted again by Adam’s profile. FACEBOOK IS HAUNTED! Everyone screams a lot and Val calls the Fresno Police: Cyber Division.
Meanwhile, an Instagram post surfaces on Laura’s old account with a screenshot of a conversation she had with Val where Val tells Laura she should kill herself. Jeez. Kids are mean. Val’s webcam gets all glitchy until it cuts to her in a laundry room with some bleach and then glitches out again with her passed out and presumably dead on the floor. Cyber suicide. Nice job Cyber Police.
Everyone wants to log off but the ghost tells them if they do they die, because this ghost has every power. Primarily it makes you commit suicide by like, possession? Blaire reads this on a ghost forum that conveniently pertains to their exact dilemma. Ken concocts a plan to rid the malicious account from their profiles by emailing everyone Trojan Horse removal software and it appears to work. Movie over, right?
Nope. Billie227 revealed to be Laura comes back and convinces Ken to kill himself. His webcam glitches out and then he shoves his hand in a blender. Which I have to say, funniest thing I’ve seen in the theaters all year. It’s a good thing my brother and I saw the film alone. I’m sure we would have pissed someone off with how loud we were laughing. Oh, and then the fat guy is dead, that’s no so funny.
Next, the ghost makes everyone play the game “Never Have I Ever.” If you don’t know what that is it’s because you’re a grandpa. I’ll at least say it’s a game where people reveal secrets about themselves. Except whoever loses in this game loses in real life. In this sequence, we learn about everyone’s hot problems including; Jess spreading a rumor that Blaire was anorexic, Adam bargaining with Laura to trade his life for Jess’, Mitch ratting Adam out to the cops for weed, Jess defacing Laura’s grave, and Blaire sleeping with Adam. NO!!! They were supposed to save the bonin’ for prom night.
Everyone is at their breaking point when the ghost sends Adam and Blaire messages to their printers. Does the ghost have Kinkos’ powers? Wait, does Kinkos still exist? Anyways, both of them inform the group that they cannot show the printed messages to anyone, but Mitch insists because he is pissed. So Blaire shows her message and sure enough, it says: “If you reveal this note, Adam will die.” So Adam pulls out a gun and shoots himself in the face. Should have seen that one coming.
Now desperate for any kind of help, Blaire goes on Chatroulette of all places to find help. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be haunted by a ghost than see half a dozen dudes jerking it. I don’t recall Blaire coming across any jerking videos, and I feel like I’d remember that, but she does have to fan through a bunch of idiots. Eventually, she finds some girl in Arizona who calls the Fresno Police department for her. Apparently, no one in the group can use their phones because they’re all ghost phones now.
At some point, we finally get to see the entirety of Laura’s embarrassing video, and it’s a doozy. The video is footage of Laura, drunk at a party, passing out and then… pooping her pants. It’s crazy for to think a movie exists where the plot is set into motion after someone poops their pants. BTW, you see the poop and it’s grosser than the goriest of gore scenes.
“Poop should never be on camera,” which is one of my favorite quotes from Alfred Hitchcock. Of course, the whole fecal fiasco leads to cyber bullying and Laura’s suicide. We also learn Laura had some bad things happen to her when she was little concerning her uncle, the details of which are never disclosed.
I don’t think it comes as a shock to anyone when it is revealed that Blaire is the one who shot the poop video with Mitch uploading it to YouTube. Oh, also Jess dies for some reason choking herself with a hair straightener. Mitch stabs himself in the eye with a knife and Blaire gets so scared she closes her laptop. The film switches to a POV shot and Blaire sees a really scary ghost jump at her and it’s all over. Everybody’s dead.
My biggest problem with this ending is that it sacrifices what little logic the film had for a cheap shock ending. Not only could Laura control every aspect of the internet, she could control all technology, possess you, and kill you in a physical form. It’s a little much, isn’t it? Every horror film needs rules. You can’t let your antagonist do whatever they please with no justification. It’s a shame too because there’s a lot here that I do like.
The performances are good. Everyone feels very natural and very much like a stupid teen. I also loved the gimmick. It’s amazing how quickly you get used to watching someone else’s screen and enjoy it as an alternative to typical found footage. It was an interesting take on delivering the film’s scary scenes. What I didn’t like was the film’s inability to deliver a payoff to any of those scary scenes.
The underlining tension in Unfriendable was always good. I could always feel that tingle when something was about to go wrong, but then when it did it was always lame, laughable even. It reminds me of Final Destination if all the kills sucked. There’s very little ingenuity in anything that happens to these teens, who don’t deserve what they get.
My next point is why did Laura Barns do anything? Maybe Blaire and Mitch were mean to her but that hardly seems deserving of murder. I’m not even sure what the rest of the group did. Are they targets by association? Laura was way meaner than any of these kids, it’s not like she was an innocent ‘lil angel. I’m not saying she deserved to die but her reasons for revenge felt forced. If this movie had dealt with something really traumatic; a rape or a murder, maybe I’d understand why these kids need to be killed. Poop pants? That’s a shitty setup.
Unfriended is dumb, and it doesn’t make much sense. That being said I had fun watching a new spin on found footage. I’ll give anything praise for that. So go forth Unfriended, go viral and give those pesky teens something to think about next time they act like a troll. Maybe they’ll end up under a bridge with their throat slit. jk 😉