Unfriended – 2 out of 5
When I first heard that there was going to be a horror film about a vengeful spirit of a bullied girl who torments some kids until she murders them AND the film would be shown entirely through a video chat session online, I was skeptical but intrigued. My first thoughts were that the film could either be great and unique or unique and completely awful. In the end, Unfriended ended up being a bit of the latter.
|I'm no expert on suicide but who holds the gun like|
that when they decide to end it all?
The film opens with a internet viral video of a girl named Laura (Heather Sossaman) committing suicide after her friends uploaded a video of her getting super wasted and then, subsequently, ended up being harassed endlessly online by her classmates and told she should kill herself. A year after her suicide, a former friend of Laura’s named Blaire (Shelley Hennig) logs online to video chat with her friends: Adam (Will Peltz), Val (Courtney Halverson), Jess (Renee Olstead), Ken (Jacob Wysocki—who, by the way, is awesome in Terri and Fat Kid Rules the World. I highly recommend those films) and her boyfriend Mitch (Mosses Storm—who had a badass name, by the way). A mysterious and unidentified sixth person enters the video chat and Blaire starts to get messages from Laura’s Facebook page. Soon, the friends are forced to admit their sins against the dead woman or they will have to answer for them with their lives.
|Ken decided to go full Chris Farley...and his friends seem to love it.|
As I stated, I found this film to be not-so-great. I won’t go as far as saying it is horrible but I definitely didn’t find the film frightening or scary in any way. I will, however, go as far as saying the film actually had potential and I applaud the film with trying something new in a genre that is built on an overly solid foundation of doing the same thing over and over again. Even more amazing is how the film openly embraced technology to try and tell a scary tale. Horror films are not ones to really fully embrace our growing digital age—think of how long it took for the genre to admit people have cell phones on them at all times and had to come up with reasons why the victims aren’t immediately calling 9-1-1 when the shit gets freaky. It took the genre forever to acknowledge that video recorders exists and could be used to document supposed hauntings and the second they realized this could happen we were endlessly belted in the face with “found footage” films that all basically look the same.
|Can your heart handle the suspense of waiting on a response in an |
instant messenger chat window?!?
Granted, the genre will make stupid films that try to make cars murdering machines or there will be entire films dedicated to the murderous intent of everyday household appliances like refrigerators or beds but these are just lazy writers trying to come up quick ideas or Stephen King proving that he ran out of ideas a long time ago. Rarely do we see horror that actively embraces technology as a format to TELL a horror story and, more often than not, they use technology to BE the story. This is where I found Unfriended to be really intriguing. Having it in this format made for an interesting way of having a story unfold and it allowed for truly unique ways for character development to occur. For example, the film is shown entirely from what Blaire is seeing on her screen and when we see her instant messaging her boyfriend we often see her initially type her true feelings but she will immediately delete it to type something much more vague or even dismissive. This was truly a neat way to get insight on the character without going the route of inner monologue being broadcast to the audience.
|It's exactly as exciting as real group video chat...also, suspension of disbelief|
was completely lost when Blaire goes to Chatroulette and there isn't
one douche asking to see her boobs or flashing his naughty bits.
So much for reality, movie!
Ultimately, however, the film’s presentation ends up being the film’s undoing because it takes away the thing that makes horror films scary; it makes you a passive participant and not an active one. When horror films put you, the viewer, into the action that is how the scares often arrive because you are neck deep in the danger and right next to the victim right before Jason Voorhees machetes a person in the face. The internet has desensitized us to a lot of things and made us very jaded (unless we see a video that says “What happens next will leave you in tears” and then we suddenly find are easily lost faith in humanity). We no longer feel sympathy for videos of people getting hurt or injured to the point that you probably just witnessed video evidence of a person dying. We see these videos are a source of humor because we are not there in person experiencing the awful events. The internet and YouTube have made us passive viewers who don’t see this as people getting hurt but rather as faceless nobodies there to make us laugh. It is this mentality that made it hard to really feel any sense of dread or horror when the characters get killed off because it is barely any different than a video of someone doing something stupid that Daniel Tosh cracks jokes about on a weekly basis on Comedy Central or the million of other shows that are exactly the same as The Soup and Tosh.0.
|I was, however, worried for Jacob Wysocki because he's just a good actor|
and, in turn, that made me care for his character a little more than the rest.
Caring for the victims in a horror film is pretty much essential and that’s why the 70s pretty much gave birth to the Golden Virgin. When everyone is doing terrible things, it is the pure and kind-hearted person that lives and escapes the figurative devil that is out to make you pay for the sins you’ve committed. This has been parodied over the years but, at least for me, I need at least one character to care about and actively cheer for and hope they don’t die a terrible death. In the end, that character is metaphorically me and I am living through them when I watch a horror film and I really don’t want to watch them die because that's me dying. Unfriended doesn’t have the Golden Virgin and, instead, takes part in the growing fade of filling up a film’s cast of characters with grotesquely unlikable and asshole-ish characters. No one in this film has any real good qualities about them. They are nothing but a bunch of petty people who routinely attack each other, stab each other in the back and all-around treat the ones they call friends like shit. I felt no sympathy for them and, in turn, was cheering the dead spirit of Laura to make them all pay. They were awful and, since they were fictional, I had absolutely no invested interest in seeing them live and that ultimately made the film something I couldn’t get into or ingrain myself in.
|They're both screaming about how we need to leave Britney alone.|
In internet years, that reference is ancient.
My final issue with the film came in the morals and themes it is tossing out and how easily it is to turn them against themselves. On the surface, Unfriended is about how awful bullying is—most notably cyber-bullying. I said I didn’t like how the characters were unlikable and it’s clear the film is saying, “You’re not suppose to like them because they’re bullies and we’re showing how bullying is bad.” That’s great but, on the different side of the same coin, they accidentally created the ultimate victim blaming feature. Laura, after being bullied to the point she takes her own life, comes back for revenge and is, by horror film standards, the bad guy. So, underneath the film’s surface of saying bullying is bad, it’s in a roundabout way saying that Laura is the bad guy because she’s killing people. As a friend of mine put it, they are literally demonizing the victim in this film. Saying don’t bully people because they’ll become demons who kill you might become the next “Don’t dress that way if you don’t want to get raped.”
|But it does prove why you should not be dicks to people, so that's good.|
Surprisingly, I did find Unfriended better than what I predicted it was going to be—granted, I still didn’t find it very entertaining but its acting was better than I thought it would be and the concept is fairly decent. The problem I had—beyond how silly it was that their video chat connection lagged as bad as it did (Did they have dial-up?)—was with the film’s execution. It’s a unique idea but within its uniqueness came a new set of problems like scares that just weren’t scary and a moral that can easily be turned around. Maybe these problems can be fixed with its sequel but if the film is just retreaded the same stuff we’ve already seen (like the Paranormal Activity franchise, a series that never stops repeating itself) then it will just end up being another clichéd horror franchise for the pile.