Starring: Shelley Hennig, Moses Storm, Renee Olstead
Director: Levan Gabriadze
Running Time: 83 mins
Unfriended is an American film about a group of friends who, while talking on Skype, see their conversation hijacked by a mysterious user, leading to a chaotic and unpredictable turn of events that seem to be connected to the suicide of one of their friends one year ago.
For a film that looks so stupid at the outset, I have to say that Unfriended was a massive surprise for me. It’s not a work of art, but it’s a really effective and above all immensely entertaining thriller that develops fantastic tension through a unique style, both bringing a contemporary flavour to its story, while also taking inspiration from all of the classic horror genres to make for a thoroughly exciting film.
I expected to hate every moment going into Unfriended, but the fact that it managed to change my opinion – and in such dramatic fashion – is testament to just how good this film surprisingly is.
Above all, what’s notable about it is that it takes place entirely on the laptop screen of its main character – as we see a Skype conversation unfold between her and her friends, with the surrounding windows of social networks, messengers, browsers and more also coming in to play a role.
It may sound like a gimmick, but watching an entire film unfold on just one screen is actually a stunningly effective way to craft great tension and unpredictability.
On the one hand, being locked into that one tunnel of vision is instrumental in creating a sense of claustrophobia, furthered by twists in the story that mean we can’t step away from the computer.
On the other, the flexibility of the computer by nature allows you to travel beyond the screen, meaning the film doesn’t feel like a static one-shot affair, but one that dips in and out between different windows, applications and more, with a similar effect to briefly changing location or perspective in a more orthodox movie.
And what’s more is that there’s no better genre for that unique style to work than horror, as the tension that grows from the sense of claustrophobia, the unpredictability of what message is coming next, and the anonymity of the person who hijacks the friends’ conversation, develops into something really palpable that makes the movie a massively entertaining and exciting watch.
Some people may not take to it, but in my view, director Levan Gabriadze plays an absolute blinder with Unfriended, taking a very simplistic, everyday atmosphere – that of our desktop computer – and managing to create a visceral and exhilarating atmosphere within. Not to mention the stunning use of buffering, something so simple, to create some of the film’s most brilliantly suspenseful moments.
Now, from the outside, this film appears like an hour and a half of teenagers screaming during a Skype conversation. However, not only does Gabriadze do a brilliant job at turning that into something a lot more dynamic, but the screenplay is also a simple retelling of every classic horror story, just in a different setting.
Blending elements of the home invasion thriller, the slasher genre, and even a bit of haunted house, there’s actually nothing particularly unfamiliar about Unfriended, and although that does make it a little underwhelming when push comes to shove in its more by-the-book final act, it’s that use of a different setting and a totally unique dynamic that provides a breath of fresh air into a collection of stories we’ve actually seen hundreds of times before.
Like I just said there, however, the film isn’t bulletproof, and while it sticks to its guns with that unique style throughout, its story does descend into somewhat more basic, violence-oriented horror towards the end, unfortunately taking away from the excellent tension and ambiguity that was built brilliantly throughout the first two acts.
What’s more is that the performances aren’t quite up to the mark when it comes to some of the more intense scenes. Although there’s a genuine sense around all of the actors – something that furthers the idea of the simplicity of the laptop setting – they don’t quite manage to portray a powerful sense of fear at any point, meaning that the film’s (intended) most terrifying moments are actually quite laughable, and not all that effective at frightening you as well.
In the end, then, Unfriended isn’t a particularly scary film, but it is one that takes a bold and strikingly unique direction when it comes to telling a classic horror story, with brilliant directing throughout that kept my eyes glued entirely to the screen, and crafting brilliant tension to create a genuinely exciting watch at every moment, and that’s why I’m giving Unfriended (rather unexpectedly) a 7.8 overall.