UNFRIENDED (UK CERT: 15)
Director: Levan Gabriadze
Starring: Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm
When was the last time you watched a genuinely scary horror film? For me, Sinister, The Conjuring and You’re Next are three of the most terrifying movies to grace the silver screen in the last few years.
However, for every Sinister, there’s a One Missed Call. Bland, forgettable films litter the genre and we’re still waiting for a 90s-esque resurgence to kick-in. Here, Universal Pictures starts its summer movie campaign with Unfriended, but will it have you watching through your fingers?
Unfriended takes place in real-time on the laptop of a high-school student named Blaire (Shelley Hennig). Blaire, along with her boyfriend (Moses Jacob Storm) and a group of other conventional American teenagers gather together on Skype to have a chat.
However, a sinister account belonging to their deceased friend appears to join in the conversation on the anniversary of her suicide. The ensuing horror not only tests the limits of their friendship, but also their strength as human beings.
Levan Gabriadze directs the film brilliantly and in only using social media and webcam chat services, manages to create a horror movie that is genuinely unique and also impossible to predict, playing on our continuous use of modern technology as a plot device.
The result of this static camera work and point of view shooting is a hideously claustrophobic atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re also a part of the group’s terror – though take your glasses along if you have trouble reading from afar like I do.
Casting reasonably unknown actors in the roles was also a master stroke by the production team. In doing so, they have created a film that feels much more real, and in turn a lot more scary, with the characters coming across as just normal kids caught up in something truly awful.
Of course, the lack of feature film experience is evident in the whole of the cast. Some of the acting is decidedly dodgy and
to fully immerse yourself in what’s going on requires a slight suspension of disbelief in these sequences.
What Unfriended does have in its favour however is a plot featuring different tones. As it begins, it appears to be a typical teen-slasher movie like Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer – but the clever editing and story that picks up pace from around 20 minutes in throws you off the scent of what is really at work here.
Unfortunately, this intriguing premise isn’t explored to its full extent and with a length just shy of 85 minutes there just isn’t enough time to flesh out the characters.
Much like 2013’s The Purge, Unfriended has a story that’s different to every other mass-market horror flick out there, but it feels like the creators chickened out a little before the end and hastily added in unnecessary violence to make it feel a little more conventional which is a real shame.
Overall, Unfriended is a genuinely scary, if slightly too brief horror film that manages to play on our fears of the unknown and what technology can really do if it gets into the wrong hands. If there was to be a sequel, and a look to the past tells me there may well be, let’s hope it’s more like The Purge: Anarchy than Piranha 3DD.
I much prefer to see a film rise close to greatness only to crash and burn than see a film simply check the boxes to be forgotten in a week, and Unfriended is definitely the former. This film does one thing right that I’ve seen so many modern horror films fail to do; build up suspense, and it is brilliant at it.
It takes time, repeatedly hinting to the audience that something bad is about to happen, and it gets worse and worse until you’re physically squirming in your seat, shuddering in terror. The lights go down, the scare comes…
… and the audience’s reaction is “… oh.”
The scares always fall flat; they show too much to allow the audience to fill in the blanks with their own imaginations, but they aren’t shocking and gory enough to horrify them either. It’s a shame too, because this film got so close to being a true horror classic. It’s an admirable failure, but a failure nonetheless.