UK Release Date: 1st May 2015
Runtime: 83 minutes
Director: Levan Gabriadze
Writer: Nelson Greaves
Starring: Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Heather Sossaman, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson
Synopsis: A group of friends are terrorised within their online video chat by the spirit of a deceased classmate.
The subgenre of “internet horror” is not one that has produced a stream of classics. In fact, attempts at the genre such as FeardotCom have often been incredibly disappointing and not at all scary. The latest stab at giving horror the chance to go digital is Unfriended – set entirely within the confines of a computer screen.
Blaire (Shelley Hennig) is online with her friends a year after the death of classmate Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman). She is engaging in racy conversation with her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm), when Jess (Renee Olstead), Ken (Jacob Wysocki) and Adam (Will Peltz) appear in the chat. They are accompanied by a phantom user account, which soon begins to interact with the group, claiming to be Laura.
The reason Unfriended works is that it remains unfailingly loyal to its central conceit, but also doesn’t allow it to dominate the film. For these teenage characters, it’s entirely logical that their social happenings occur completely within their screens. Filmmaker Levan Gabriadze wisely draws little attention to the concept, presenting the scenario as the most natural thing in the world, which of course it is in 2015.
| "Okay, everybody put your hands up right now. Who’s doing this?"
The performances from the cast of Unfriended are incredibly naturalistic, aided by the fact that much of the dialogue was improvised on set. Long takes provide the film with a natural ebb and flow in terms of pacing, which helps to subvert the scare expectations placed upon modern horror movies. Shelley Hennig, briefly glimpsed at the beginning and end of Ouija, is terrific in the central role – at once sympathetic and oddly dislikeable.
There’s a real imagination to the way in which the narrative of Unfriended unfolds. The scenes of blood and gore are delivered in such a way that it’s never one hundred per cent clear what has happened, which creates a real sense of anarchy. Surprises come thick and fast, especially as Laura’s spirit finds different ways to manipulate those who once knew her.
It’s not all plain sailing, with the very pacing that gives the film its creative structure leading to some periods of narrative slowdown. There’s also a missed opportunity to create a truly bleak climax, leading to a final scare that falls far too easily into horror formula and undercuts some of the freeform intrigue that came before. For all of its impressive creepiness, Unfriended is often its own worst enemy.
| "It’s probably a glitch."
Despite its flaws, Unfriended does plenty with its concept and becomes an interesting entry in a genre that all too often adheres to rigidly to conventions. It has issues, but it fulfils all of the basic needs of its genre – it’s a lot of fun and packs plenty of scares.
If only they’d tried Ctrl-Alt-Delete.
Pop or Poop?
Unfriended is an interesting movie, helped along by an innovative concept and a naturalistic cast of performances. Largely, the film sticks to its guns with the concept, which prevents it from falling into the trap of a lacklustre gimmick.
It has some pacing issues, which is a problem at under 90 minutes long, and the finale is a little over-worked, but the film deserves praise for its commitment to doing something innovative and original.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.