A YouTube video posted of an inebriated Laura Barns, followed by the resulting cyber bullying, lead her to commit suicide. On the anniversary of her death, her memory lingers in the background while her former friends gather on Skype to discuss prom plans and other mundane activities. Except, an unknown person popped up in their call and they refuse to allow what happened to Laura to be forgotten. This unknown presence will dredge up the teens’ dirty secrets under the threat of death in order to get to the bottom of the video’s posting.
The entirety of the film plays out through lead teen Blaire’s laptop. The viewer watches along as she private messages her boyfriend, Googles articles on ghosts, receives Facebook messages from the deceased, and watches in horror as her friends mysteriously succumb to an unseen assailant all the while the unknown Skype user issues rules and ultimatums. Hang up and someone will die. Play their game or die. Unfriended is unique in that it gives the audience pertinent clues via technology, rather than dialogue. Sound and dialogue are often muted while Blaire explores Facebook and Google for answers to what’s happening. This format also deftly answers the oft most asked question in found footage films. Why didn’t they just put the camera, or in this case laptop, down?
Using Blaire’s monitor as the means in which the story is told lends to some tense and creepy moments, as the viewer’s scope of vision is limited only to what she can see. When things start to hit the fan, lags become terrifying. Along with Blaire, the viewer must wait for the computer to catch up and the fate of her friends might be revealed. The anonymous user wants the teens to admit their roles in the events leading to Laura’s suicide, wants to make them turn on each other by confessing their deepest secrets, and ultimately wants them to suffer the same fate as Laura.
The group of six victims, led by actress Shelley Hennig as Blaire, does the film a great service with their believable portrayals of teenagers. Their banter and escalating terror comes across genuine and natural. These feel like genuine teens behaving appropriately given the age of the characters. This includes the typical drama you’d associate with that age group. More specifically, teens behave badly and don’t often make the best decisions. Even Laura Barns herself wasn’t revealed to have been a nice person while she lived. Which poses the question, does the crime fit the punishment?
Despite the interesting spin on found footage, and the performances that sell such a concept, Unfriended comes across as a darker Lifetime special on the woes of cyberbullying. While cyberbullying is a current and relevant issue, the message felt a bit heavy handed and disjointed. It can also be tiring to essentially spend a large portion of the 82 minute run time looking over Blaire’s shoulder reading the articles she’s reading over and watching as she clicks endlessly through Facebook, websites, and apps.
Most of all, though, Unfriended will not resonate as strongly with those far removed from their teenaged years. The moral feels directed at a specific demographic, rightfully so. Furthermore, the drama of teenaged antics, can wear thin. Unfriended was originally intended to be a MTV movie, after all.
While technologically impressive with believable portrayals of adolescence, the story will likely not appease many outside of the target demographic. This is a horror story meant for teens, and the deaths are kept mostly off screen and quite tame by most horror aficionados standards. The use of Skype as a medium in which to relay the story offers up clever explanation and creepy tension, but will likely date itself quickly as time wears on. Mostly, though, Unfriended is a tale on how terrifying adolescence can be.
About the Author
Meagan Navarro is a blogger from Houston, TX. She fell in love with monsters at age four after being exposed to them via Ghostbusters, and her passion grew into an obsession for all things horror and Halloween (which is the entire month of October, as far as she’s concerned). Meagan also loves traveling and chocolate.