Yes, there's a horror movie that takes place entirely on a computer screen.
May 04, 2015
Watching a cursor move around a computer screen doesn't sound very exciting, let alone frightening. There's only so much intrigue to be found in basically watching over someone's shoulder as they flick between YouTube, Skype, Facebook, Spotify, Gmail and iMessage — or is there?
It depends what they're up to, of course, and in these always-online times, that could be anything. In Unfriended, the MacBook user in question, high schooler Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig), is doing quite a few things. First, she's watching shocking footage of her friend, Laura Barns, committing suicide exactly a year earlier, as well as the embarrassing video that drove her to her death. Next, she's cyber flirting with her boyfriend, Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm). Then they're both video chatting with pals Adam (Will Peltz), Jess (Renee Olstead), Ken (Jacob Wysocki) and Val (Courtney Halverson).
They're not the only ones taking part in the conversation, as they soon realise. Their Skype call also includes an unknown party, but hanging up on the unpleasant troll isn't as easy as it should be. At the same time, Blaire starts receiving strange Facebook messages from Laura, despite her dearly departed status. Mitch suggests that their virtual gatecrasher is Laura's ghost in the machine, a prediction that seems laughable at first, but less so as the interloper's taunts get increasingly violent — and personal.
Yes, this is a supernatural revenge film. Yes, it swaps a handheld camera for a computer screen in the next evolution of the found footage genre. Yes, that means that the entirety of Unfriended unfolds on a laptop, as scared teens are taunted by an unseen foe. Director Levan Gabriadze, writer Nelson Greaves and producer Timur Bekmambetov — the helmer of Wanted and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, as well the most famous name involved with the ultra low-budget production — simply toy with the usual horror narrative in the same way their villain plays with the characters. It's both obvious and ingenious, and it mostly works.
Setting the movie within an overlapping cascade of constantly minimised and maximised application windows places the potential victims in an immensely relatable situation — i.e. staring at a computer for hours on end. More than that, it also ramps up the suspense. A couple of bloody set pieces aside, the usual jumps are largely absent, with few scares to be found in pixilated video that keeps the characters' fearful faces on screen as much as possible. However, tension ripples through every typed then deleted message and every mouse move to the wrong place. Blaire and her friends are on the edge of their keyboards, and the audience is inching towards the edge of their seats.
Unfriended also offers a critique of online interaction from bullying to shaming, though there's nothing new in its exposé of the awful ways people behave when they think they're anonymous. There's nothing new in the cast's performances as self-absorbed, fighting and terrified teens, either, other than accurately reflecting the right age and behaviour. Innovation doesn't matter here, though; the movie only ever promises a modern update. When it clicks, it clicks. When it doesn't, it's still not enough to make you want to log off.