Unfriended (2014) / Horror-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for violent content, pervasive language, some sexuality, and drug and alcohol use - all involving teens
Running Time: 82 min.
Cast: Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Will Peltz, Renee Olstead, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson, Heather Sossaman
Director: Leo Gabriadze
Screenplay: Nelson Greaves
Review published April 18, 2015
A fairly interesting premise isn't able to capitalize in this rather non-scary, non-thrilling entry in the low-budget horror genre that aims to bring things to the forefront of modern technology, and yet, at its core, it is still mired in formula fright-flick antics. In fact, it's nearly identical to the plot of Ouija (which also features star Hennig), except with Skype and Facebook as the conduit for a malevolent spirit to make five teens suffer, rather than a spirit board. (And Ouija was far from original itself.)
The entirety of the film is the view from the laptop screen of teenager Blaire Lily (Hennig), whose very private Skype conversation with boyfriend Mitch (Storm) is rudely interrupted by a trio of friends looking to chat up the clique. It's the first anniversary of the suicide of their classmate, Laura (Sossaman, Totally Baked), who offed herself after being cyberbullied following the posting of a dreadfully embarrassing video of her on YouTube. When a sixth participant in the group chat appears, and Blaire begins to get private messages on Facebook from Laura's dormant account, she immediately suspects one of them is playing some sort of very sick joke. Or, perhaps it is a malicious hacker. Or, perhaps worst of all, could it truly be Laura contacting them from beyond? If so, they're all in trouble, as they're told they will die if they leave the chat, and "Laura" has a lot of information to expose about them all they wouldn't want anyone to know, especially within that very clique of friends.
I'll give the makers credit for being savvy in a way that films rarely are in terms of the authenticity of its use of technology, but that's about it. I'm just not going to give a positive review to a film because it gets its bells and whistles mostly right, even is the main course of the flick is flat and unoriginal. Outside of the social media gimmicky interface, Unfriended is pretty much the same old malevolent presence out for revenge flick underneath, picking off its perceived enemies one by one. Your tolerance for how it plays out will largely be dictated by your tolerance for generic horror films in general, so if you don't regularly feast off from the horror table unless there's something truly exceptional to partake of, this one's not likely to raise your heart rate up once you get past the initial setup.
Perhaps if watching teens chatting online were exciting in and of itself, or if we managed to care about any of them within the course of discovering who they are, we might have a passably entertaining flick here, instead of just one that isn't interesting to discuss beyond its trend-based hook. I can't really buy that high schoolers this popular and un-geeky, all of them living in the same school's vicinity in Fresno (it would have made FAR more sense for them to all live in different towns after moving away to college), would actually spend their time getting together online rather than in person. I don't think they'd find the experience interesting, and I certainly don't find it interesting to watch them.
I don't often root against the monetary success of a film, but I truly hope the public rejects this one because I cannot fathom having to sit through any more films with this exact premise should it become a box office hit. A little suspense might go a long way here, or even a a smidge of genuine terror, two things sorely needed but utterly lacking. If Unfriended were a person, it would be the kind whose page you might opt to casually peek at out of curiosity, but not enough is there to earn a "Like".
©2015 Vince Leo