After an embarrassing video of her was posted online, high schooler Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman) killed herself over the harassment and bullying she received. Exactly one year later, Laura’s friend Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig) is having a Skype chat with her boyfriend Mitch Roussel (Moses Jacob Storm) and their three friends Jess Felton (Renee Olstead), Ken Smith (Jacob Wysocki) and Adam Sewell (Will Peltz).
As they’re chatting, they notice another mysterious account under the profile name of billie227 has entered the chat. Trying to get rid of the user doesn’t work, and when Blaire traces the account back to Laura, everyone initially thinks its a cruel prank. However, as the conversation continues on, concerns amongst the friends begin to grow as the user makes the startling claim that she is Laura.
Dun. Dun… DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
What better way to follow Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 than with a found footage film centering on a group of cliche teenagers, all of whom might as well be sporting a giant bullseye for the vengeful spirit, stuck within one giant social media gimmick? The trailer got two eyerolls and a sigh from me, and that’s just when it first premiered, not counting the million other times the studio marketed it repeatedly in my face before nearly every film. Coming on the heels of easily the worst film I’ve seen this year, it’s enough to make me wanna punch a puppy in the face as hard as I possibly can.
Did I forget to mention that it’s also fun and entertaining?
See, that’s what can happen when you leave your expectations at the door.
Granted, after my first viewing experience for the night, I was so jonesing for anything not named Paul Blart that it didn’t matter if Unfriended ended up sucking donkey balls or not. I’d be kicking the theater door open and marching in going all “Rah! Rah! Rah!” pep the crowd up crazy while a John Philip Sousa marching band blasts out “The Stars and Stripes Forever” anyway. Lucky for me, this ended up being much more fun than I originally would’ve thought it had any right to be.
Thank God too, ’cause I devoted an entire top 10 list to this damn film earlier this week.
Sure, the first five minutes or so had me thinking my initial expectations were about to be met, but what got me hooked was the attention to detail director Levan Gabriadze shows, which is mainly why the online gimmick ends up working as well as it does. We get all the various details seen and heard through social media platforms such as an incoming chat call, a notification bubble to even just the nitpicky minute things like the ads and related videos seen on the side of Facebook and YouTube (both of which are fitting character touches for the high school age Blaire), or the way we constantly self-edit our messages and comments online. It’s little things like that which give this particular found footage gimmick a sense of authenticity.
Well, as authentic as a Skype chat sabotaged by a vindictive ghost, or one hell of a malware virus, can get that is.
Honestly, it’s no surprise this film’s already proving to be quite divisive with moviegoers and critics alike, so naturally, it’s only gonna work if you’re willing to go along for the ride the premise offers. Once Gabriadze gets the ball rolling, despite a few obligatory jump scares (the web chat screen freezing glitch used for them is a fun little device, however), the tension escalates quite well. The Skype format gives the tension a little boost too since the contained setting keeps us in the dark during a few scenes where we’re unable to see what a particular character’s seeing at the moment.
Those that remain skeptical may be convinced with a very manipulative game the ghost forces the friends to play that I’ll refrain from describing.
Though they’re all playing character tropes we’ve seen in horror films for decades, the cast of mostly unknowns (I recognized Shelley Hennig from Ouija last year) all turn in solid performances. We’re not talking mind-blowing or anything, of course, but it does speak well of their potential that they’re all going solo for each of their scenes, a task easier said than done.
One last thing: Please, for the love of God, Universal, leave this be. You should be thankful enough that this film manages to work in spite of the fact that it’s essentially the found footage horror equivalent of a comedy with a one-joke premise… NO SEQUELS!!!!
Hell, who are we kidding? The film’s already turned in a profit on its $1 million budget. Look out for Unfriended 2 in 2016 and Unfri3nd3d in 2017!
Gimmicky? Yes. Characters just begging to be killed off? Absolutely. Entertaining regardless? Surprisingly, yes. While it’s not exactly breaking news that the found footage genre’s become hit-or-miss, director Levan Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves give Unfriended a bit of a refreshing spin that although a little preachy on the anti-bullying front, still presents the consequences of all the stupid and sometimes harmful crap we post and upload online in a fun and exciting manner.
Excuse me now while I delete my Skype and Facebook accounts real quick.
I give Unfriended a B+ (★★★).
Review source: http://silverscreenfanatic.com/2015/04/18/unfriended/