Went and saw UNFRIENDED last week. I heard so many bad things about it leading up to its release, but I wanted to watch it anyway because it is a unique presentation.
Yes, there have been other films similar to the presentation. 2000’s TIME CODE which was told in four frames, 24-style, that were simultaneously telling a story, is the first I can think of. This film is slightly different though, it’s basically all a single shot on a laptop screen, with all sorts of varied thing happening on the laptop screen, which includes Facebooking, YouTube-ing, Skyping, Spotify-ing, and other things I didn’t quite understand (we’ll get there later).
First let’s talk about the story. A year before the present events of the film, Laura was recorded having a way-past-drunk night in which she makes a total fool of herself in front of the camera (and most notably, craps herself), the footage found its way on social media, a lot of people made fun of her, and she ended up killing herself (also on video…which also made it to social media). Now, one year later, a group of friends are chatting with each other online, but it seems the ghost of Laura has shown up in their computers to exact her revenge. Because apparently each of the friends played a part in why she killed herself (for some of the friends, the reasoning is weaker than for others). So one by one she ‘possesses’ them and makes them kill themselves in—sometimes—terrible ways. So there, that’s the story.
Is it a good story? Not really, been done before, granted not with this presentation, but the story has been done before. So there’s nothing really special there, or anything that stands out about it. The story, mixed with the presentation, does do a good job showing the evils of cyber-bullying. At one point they use the ‘everyone was posting mean stuff on your Facebook’ defense, saying that they were all still ‘good people’, which is pretty much why cyber-bullying is so pervasive. So on that count, I give it a good mark, but everything else about the story stinks, stinks, stinks.
Where the movie stands out though is in its presentation, in that respect it is new and unique. Although personally I’m hoping this doesn’t start a trend like ‘found-footage’ movies (way too goddamn many of those, and only a small portion of them are any good), but one or two here and there wouldn’t be a terrible thing if they married it to a good story. Which, let’s face it, they won’t. They’ll put all their effort into a unique presentation and be lazy about the story, as if that is going to get them a pass.
It’s basically five kids Skyping with each other (why does that sound dirty every time I say it?), but also checking Facebook, playing Spotify, watching a video on YouTube, etc. because, ya know, attention span. In order for it to work I read somewhere that it was pretty much all done in one take, with each teen in a room of the same house so as to keep everything as together as possible. Which must have been hell to co-ordinate. I’m an amateur filmmaker, a few years back I made a short film that took place almost entirely in a Skype-ish phone conversation. It was called SIMON & MICHELLE and it was not an easy thing to shoot. I had chosen the hard way of doing things and filmed one side of the conversation, and then later filmed the other part of the conversation and cut them together, which was a very intricate and painful process. The final look was it taking place entirely on a computer screen with two windows that alternated between full screen and little bottom right corner. I’m not saying I was ahead of my time, I’m just bringing this up because I know from first-hand experience that UNFRIENDED could not have been a very easy film to make.
Does that excuse it for having a weak story, though? No. You’re professional filmmakers, the presentation of the film can’t be the only thing that supports it. All the other elements need to be there. The acting in it isn’t bad, but is over the top at times. The scares aren’t all that scary and are fairly predictable. But again, it’s the writing that falls flat on its face. In the end I keep thinking of THE CELL when I think of UNFRIENDED. Both are very pretty packages, with absolutely nothing inside. THE CELL was a visual treat, and conceptually a great idea, but that was it as it didn’t make much sense, had terrible dialogue, the acting was…well…it starred Jennifer Lopez if that gives you any idea. UNFRIENDED feels the same in a lot of ways.
The most notable thing about UNFRIENDED is that all the stuff they were doing, with the speed at which they did it, all the cyber multitasking, I was a bit overwhelmed. The screen was very busy, but there was a mouse cursor that you could follow that pretty much highlighted all the important things, which works really well. But all the technology and software that is happening on that screen was stuff I didn’t quite understand. Which isn’t the movie’s fault, it just means I’m not hip or cool. In this case, I’m apparently too old for that shit. I should just sit on my porch and yell at kids to get off my lawn. So that was a pretty depressing feeling to have as a result of the film.
I’m sure the film will do great with an audience of 18 to 25 year olds, but I’m 34 and past the point where I don’t care to learn stuff that I don’t really need in order to live day to day. I’m set in my ways apparently, and no uber-cyber film is going to change any of that.
So overall, I’d say the film isn’t that great. I know I don’t do ratings, just sort of give a feel for if you should watch it or not, and I’m not going to start now. But I have very mixed feelings on this film, as you can probably tell from all you’ve read so far. I guess if you’re the kind that appreciates filmmaking and especially the kind that breaks new ground, watch this movie. If you’re just a casual observer and you’re looking for a good horror movie, I suggest you pass on this one as it doesn’t really deliver on that level very well.