Starring: Shelly Hennig, Matthew Bohrer, Courtney Halverson, Heather Sossaman, Moses Storm, Will Peltz, Renee Olstead
KEN: “It’s probably just a glitch.”
VAL: “Well the glitch just typed.”
Here’s a tip about being in horror films that Scream forgot to address. If you were either directly or indirectly involved in someone’s death, it’s probably a good idea to lie low on every major anniversary of said offing.
For some reason, those affected usually decide to take revenge one, five or ten years to the day after the incident. Personally, I’d go for the element of surprise: “It’s been seven and a half months since you killed me, so time for you to get all dead and that.”
Unfriended takes place exactly a year after high school student Laura Barns committed suicide. Guess what happens next.
That’s right, nothing happens and everyone else gets on with their lives. Roll credits.
Okay, I’m joking: there’s no fooling you, you wry dog. In fact, that night a group of five teenage chums who went to school with Laura have their regular five-way Skype chat, but this time weird stuff starts happening.
For starters, joining them in their chat is an unknown sixth member: someone who sits there silently, represented only by the generic blue Skype avatar image.
At first it seems it’s little more than a bug: it has no username (at least initially), it can’t be messaged, it can’t really be interacted with in any way. And yet every time the group hangs up and re-connects it’s still there. Is it really a bug?
While this is going on, our protagonist Blaire starts getting odd Facebook messages that appear to be coming from Laura’s account. Surely some sick prick has hacked her account… surely?
As the group continues to argue about what’s going on and accusations start to fly, they’re all stunned into silence when, suddenly, their uninvited guest – now armed with a username – types a message. Looks like they’re being watched after all.
To say any more would be to ruin most of the fun. Needless to say there’s plenty of mindfuckery going on here and as things start getting sinister it becomes clear that not everyone’s going to make it through to the morning.
What makes Unfriended so unique is the way it’s shot. Or, rather, the way it’s recorded. You see, the entire film (except for one brief shot) is presented through Blaire’s computer, as if her Mac had an HDMI Out cable and we were watching her display.
It’s a massively clever way of doing things, and allows us deeper into the protagonist’s mind than were the film shot normally. As various incidents take place throughout the night we see her switching to another tab and Googling things relating to what’s happened.
As she’s typing messages to her friends and ‘Laura’, you can see her start to type something, then delete it and write a different message to mask her true feelings. You’ll see her switch to Spotify and play her playlist when it seems things are getting back to normal.
It all feels legit too. Crucially, all the websites and services featured are the real deal: there’s no Peoplebook or YouVideo here.
Laura’s sucide video is posted on LiveLeak, the clip that drove her to it is on YouTube. Meanwhile the likes of Google, Spotify, ChatRoulette, Facebook and iMessage feature, as well as the obvious central plot device of the group chat on Skype.
If you’re the sort who’s familiar with these sites and programs then you’re more likely to get a kick out of Unfriended because often seemingly innocuous stuff will happen that those in the know will recognise as unusual.
When incriminating photos of one of the group members are suddenly posted from another’s Facebook account without them doing it, it’s odd. It then gets creepy when said account holder doesn’t have the option to delete them. I know this reads dull as fuck but when you’re seeing something we do all the time not working as it should it catches your attention.
Ultimately, many iconic horror films succeed because they take a standard, unremarkable aspect of everyday life and turn it into something terrifying. Psycho made people too scared to shower, while A Nightmare On Elm Street had viewers anxious about falling asleep and dreaming.
Unfriended is the modern equivalent of this, turning social media and online chat into something that will have at least a few viewers on edge and have them thinking twice every time they log on to Skype.
It’s not without its flaws. After its brilliant initial set-up hooks you in it does fall apart a little during the final act, with some daft set-pieces (particularly one involving a piece of paper) and constant screaming and shouting from all participants which quickly gets irritating.
Its unique presentation style also removes at least one major element of mystery from the film: since this is Blaire’s computer and she’s essentially the camerawoman, it’s obvious from the start that she’s going to be the ‘final girl’ because she’s if she dies early, the film’s fucked.
This aside, I really enjoyed Unfriended more than I thought I would. Watching it I felt a similar sense of excitement to when I first watched The Blair Witch Project, which is saying something considering the countless hopeless Blair Witch clones I’ve endured over the years.
If you’re of a certain vintage and you aren’t exactly up to scratch with the world of social media and all the hip shit kids today are doing on ‘teh intr@webzorz’ – if you think Instagram is a brand of coffee granules – then Unfriended may bemuse you a little, partly because its intricacies require a little bit of prior knowledge.
If, however, you’re one of those phat dudes and dudettes (look, shut up, I’m with it) who regularly Skypes with your pals while listening to music on Spotify and tagging photos on Facebook, this cleverly takes the services you’re familiar with and tampers with them in a sinister fashion.
When it comes to modern horror, I’ve watched so much shite that it takes a lot to impress me these days. Unfriended impressed me. If I wanted to be really wanky about it I’d say that if it was a Facebook page I’d click ‘Like’ on it. But I don’t, so I won’t.
Unfriended’s rating earns it a place in the hallowed That Was A Bit Mental Hall Of Fame. Click here to see what else made the grade.
HOW CAN I SEE IT?
Unfriended is in cinemas right this chuffing minute.
SHOW ME THE TRAILER: