What were you doing on the internet before you arrived here? Nothing wholesome I bet.
If you weren’t looking at illegally acquired photos of Mila Kunis then you were anonymously telling Calvin Harris to go ‘fuck himself’ on Twitter. At best you were probably stalking an ex on Facebook while crying and honourably refusing to fiddle with yourself because that would be ‘crossing a line’.
Yes I think we can all agree that despite it being responsible for giving most of us inner city jerks careers in the 21st century, the internet is evil to its core and should be destroyed before it ruins what’s left of our tiny little lives. Too far? Well clearly you haven’t seen Unfriended yet.
Unfriended is a film that perfectly distils the unconstrained spitefulness encouraged in the darker recesses of the internet and translates them perfectly into a compact high-concept horror film.
At the centre of Unfriended is Blaire, a teenage girl who spends the opening few moments of the film watching a LiveLeak video of a fellow student’s suicide. The girl in the video, Laura, was victim of a distressing campaign of cyber-bullying, derived from an embarrassing video uploaded to YouTube without her consent.
The night that we find Blaire furtively viewing the video is the first anniversary of Laura’s death. Blaire proceeds to spend the evening on Skype, happily shooting the shit with her four school-friends, until an anonymous interloper begins sending each of them increasingly sinister messages from what appears to be Laura’s supposedly hacked social accounts.
Unfriended’s unique ‘found-footage’ style device is that all the action we see on screen takes place on Blaire’s laptop. You only see what she sees or who she interacts with online. It’s a fascinating concept that isn’t nearly as irritating as it sounds. Watching the actions of another user interacting with a computer screen directly in front of you gives the illusion of being trapped, unable to do anything but helplessly watch as Blaire’s mouse circles around a link that she really shouldn’t be clicking on.
It’s the exact same way you would watch an unsuspecting victim walk the halls of a haunted mansion. It’s wonderful modern appropriation of a classic horror device.
It’s also no exaggeration to say that there has never been a more accurate depiction of the internet and its use in our everyday lives than within this film. Sure Unfriended is the latest mainstream spook n’ stalk from the ubiquitous Blumhouse Productions, full of screaming teens and jump scares, but Unfriended totally gets the internet.
Apart from the understandable negative critique on cyber-bullying, it offers no judgement on how these kids live their lives, happily using the online world to strengthen their social bonds. Each character indiscriminately jumps around social channels, devices and messenger apps depending on the given situation in an almost preternatural manner. The kids are entirely computer literate too, using technical language in a way that would be over-explained in a lesser, dumber movie. It’s a far better reflection of the generation who never knew the world before the internet then the po-faced Disconnect or other serious movies about ‘the youth and the web’.
That being said, I can’t imagine Unfriended translated well to a cinema screen. Unfriended is a film made to be viewed on a laptop resting on your chest while lying on your bed in the dark. It was doubly spooky for me as I have exactly the same Macbook as Blaire. Her mouse darting around the page, circling links that I perhaps wouldn’t dare to touch. It’s a testament to not only how severely device behaviour has ingrained itself into my muscle memory, but also how attention addled my brain has become, that I felt my fingers reach towards my own touchpad whenever her own mouse lingered too long.
To add further realism, genuine platforms and channels are used by the characters. Facebook, Snapchat, iMessenger and Skype are all given accurate exposure here as well as Google. It’s a common barrier to suspending your disbelief when you see people in movies using fictionalised versions of real platforms and operating systems. Or even worse, Bing.
Of course all of this would be for nothing if the film wasn’t terrifying, and thankfully it delivers its shocks with a great deal of tension and innovation. The natural lags in connectivity and time delays in the networks are taken advantage of to create other-worldly glitch-riddled shadows on the screen, causing many double-takes and false alarms. Barely legible messages from the anonymous stalker ping in the upper right hand corner of the screen, the horror of them not being fully revealed until Blaire clicks on the notification. In Unfriended the delay between sending a text and receiving a reply is given interminable levels of tension.
Despite its authenticity there are obvious cheats, particularly when the webcam seems to instinctively switch between character close-ups only when there is a dramatic need for it, but these are all forgivable as the taught pace of the story doesn’t allow you to linger on these idiosyncrasies for too long.
As this is a Blumhouse production, Unfriended also carries on the tradition of throwing in one last forth-wall shattering scare in the final few seconds just for the hell of it (also see Sinister). It’s a shame because the prior scare delivered to Blaire is an entirely fitting, sobering punishment that would have ended the movie on a much more thoughtful note.
Still this is a minor quibble for one of the most innovative and thoroughly modern horror films made so far this century. Now scroll down from this review, register on Methods Unsound as an anonymous user using a fake email address and leave an abusive message telling me that celebrities should be more aware of the dangers of storing personal photos in cloud based storage and it’s their own fault that you now have them downloaded to your phone, you horrible creep. 5/5