Director – Leo Gabriadze
Writer – Nelson Greaves
Starring – Shelley Henning, Moses Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson
In response to the release on Sky Premier last week, let's take another look at last year's surprise horror hit Unfriended.From the relatively unknown Leo Gabriadze, in the midst what feels like a resurgent year for the horror genre, comes what feels like the natural marriage between the found-footage films that have dominated the horror landscape post Blair-Witch, and the rise of cyber activity and social Media in the 21st century. It is a marriage that always likely to happen, and I’m here to tell you it is a beautiful consummation.
One year ago a degrading tape of high school student Laura Barns is uploaded online, and in the aftermath the embarrassment, and the abuse of cruel online hecklers (I refuse to use the term troll) caused her to commit suicide. On the anniversary of her death, a mysterious online intruder interrupts a call between friends Blair (Henning), Mitch (Storm), Jess (Olstead), Ken (Wysocki) and Adam (Peltz) posing as Laura and beginning to play mind-games. Suspecting a sixth friend of pranking them, Val (Halverson), they invite her to the chat. However, things soon take a sinister turn and the unthinkable begins to become a distinct possibility.
Firstly, let’s talk about the concept. This stylised type of film either sinks or swims on its gimmick and whether it is just that, a gimmick, or whether the director/writer uses it in an intelligent way to enhance the story. Thankfully, on this occasion, we get the latter, and the results are unfathomably tense.
The tension is never ending, a continuously rising crescendo of feeling, and I felt genuinely uncomfortable viewing this. That’s because true horror, as I have stated so many times previously I’ve lost count, burrows deep within our subconscious and attacks us where we can’t defend ourselves, and, in the 21st century, the idea of a virtual haunting that we can never stop is a terrifying prospect. Couple that with the idea that, rather than it being supernatural, it was merely a prankster or a gang of them, that idea is equally if not MORE terrifying. In the cyber age, a good hacker can bring down the entire world. Though the film quickly chooses a clear path out of the two, and I won’t disclose which, but, I must say, you will almost certainly guess correctly, for the first twenty minutes or so the unknowing and ambiguity is incredibly tense.
The performances range from ‘meh’ to Peltz, who, unfortunately, is awful as Adam and drags down what is otherwise a relatively solid cast. Storm and Henning are the most impressive of the ensemble, and both are pretty convincing as the central couple, who, as more secrets are exposed, turn on one another. They play the part decently, if never spectacularly.
The Screenplay is a pretty accurate depiction of teenagers in a situation, and as the dark secrets are revealed, and the friendships torn apart before our eyes, it all feels believable (within the context of this film) and not far removed from typical teenages squabbling. In this environment it works because, let’s be frank, American high school kids don’t tend to wander about giving Tarantino style monologues. They use a lot of ‘dudes’, ‘bitch’ and ‘fuck yous’ and, as such, the screenplay reflects this. It’s not stylised or pretty, but it works.
It is perfectly paced, never feeling overlong or boring. In fact, I would have happily watched another twenty minutes…though, that would have probably been unnecessary. It’s a brief affair, which is good for everybody. And when violence rears its delightfully ugly head, it is enough to satisfy most hardcore horror fans, whilst never being overkill. The images are fleeting, flashing before our eyes as each member’s stream freezes (we’ve all been there), and it adds a wonderful dynamic. As the character’s aognisingly stare at the buffering screen, frantically hoping to discover the fate of their friends, when said fate is revealed, it is quick and effective. Less is more in horror, as again I have said far too many times, and this film nails that.
A film that may well be polarising, and I imagine will fall firmly in the ‘I love it’ or ‘I hate it’ camp for most, but is destined to become a cult classic. Perhaps the best use of technology based horror since Ringu, Unfriended burrows deep into all of our 21st century Orwellian fears, and does a damn good job of staying there throughout. Trust me, you won’t want to go on Skype afterwards.