Unfriended’s best attribute is undoubtedly its uniqueness. There’s nothing else quite like it on the cinematic market – so despite my personal irritations with certain parts of it, I’d still rather watch a film like this than another generic soulless ‘jump scare’ fest.
Built on the premise of cyber bullying and the lure of online interaction, Unfriended is shot entirely through the eyes of main character Blaire Lily (played by Shelley Hennig), whose own eyes spend the entirety of the film attached to her computer screen as she browses Facebook and interacts with a group of friends on Skype. The thought of this may turn off many people straight away – especially those among you who consider this kind of interaction to be an inherently unnatural part of modern culture. But the culture does exist, there’s no doubting that, and this film’s 45 year old director Levan Gabriadze embraces it as best he can.
That part is great. I loved the original form of storytelling not only because it attempts to highlight the way online interaction works (therefore also acknowledging the dangers of it); it sets out to engage the generation just below mine, who may perhaps identify with it more than I.
You see, I found myself in a bit of a curious situation watching this movie, in that while I certainly engage with the same technology featured, I don’t quite approach it as such an intrinsic part of social interaction in the same way that these teenage characters do. Most of them – indeed all of them aside from Blaire herself – I frankly found too irritating, and briefly wondered (in one of my cynical yet hopeful moments) whether people as annoying as this could actually exist in real life. I know they do, of course. In a way, that was a source of tragic annoyance I had to get over in order to judge this film with at least a little objectivity.
It is easy to do this kind of thing when approaching the film – to say it is not entirely believable that anyone would really post a video on Facebook demanding that another person kill themselves, or that commenters would echo the call even if it is ‘just a joke’ to them – but unfortunately this is touching on a rather uncomfortable facet of the online community.
The Internet allows you to communicate with people without having to face them directly, and this distance makes some feel they have liberty to say things that would otherwise be awkward and inappropriate. Of course, in any scenario, awkwardness and inappropriateness is somewhat dissipated when the crowd goes along with it. An online crowd can be a particularly toxic one – if not on an individual level, then certainly when those individuals give their opinions all at once.
This backdrop provides the set-up of Unfriended, a horror movie in which six friends meet online over Skype and find themselves stalked by a mysterious seventh party. They soon come to learn about a link between this seventh party and a friend who killed herself after a humiliating video of her was posted on Facebook – prompting the kind of death threats I’ve just mentioned. In turn this person starts making her own threats to the group, and thus, the circular nature of online back-and-forth threats is exposed. In this case it may have lethal consequences, and that is obviously not always the result of this kind of interaction, but the film’s message is clear enough; this stuff can be dangerous, and we should not simply roll our eyes at those who take it seriously – because they are the ones who end up most hurt by the often intentionally light-hearted jibes found in the online community.
Writer-producer Nelson Greaves apparently intends to do a follow-up based on the recent ‘Gamergate’ scandal, which (while I don’t usually like to speculate on sequels, especially not so soon after the release of a new film) if true, may turn out to tackle an issue I find more pertinent. Perhaps that’s part of the problem I had with Unfriended; though I enjoyed the film and liked how different it was in comparison to other movies on the market, I simply found it hard to identify with these characters on a personal level. Instead, I found them annoying. I lacked the empathy necessary to love the film – but ultimately I don’t think empathy is truly necessary to appreciate it.
7 / 10