Tuesday, April 21, 2015
'Unfriended' (2015) directed by Levan Gabriadze
Tuesday, April 21, 2015 by londoncitynights
It's difficult to take a ghost seriously after it's deployed haunted image macros. This cuts to the core of Unfriended: an interesting formal experiment but a crap horror movie. Essentially I Know What You Did Last Summer via online culture, the gimmick is that it takes place entirely on a Macbook screen.
Excitement is created by watching a cursor flip between windows, navigate between Facebook pages, chat on Skype and fiddle with computer settings. Though not entirely original (sitcom Modern Family did the same thing recently), this at least sets the film apart from damn near everything else in multiplexes.
Plotwise we're in pretty hoary horror territory. One year before the events of the film ersons unknown posted a YouTube video of a highschool girl named Laura drunkenly passed out on the floor, having shat herself. Humiliation dutifully followed, salt being rubbed into the wound by anonymous online comments instructing her to "KILL URSELF BITCH". She did, the grainy mobile video winding up on LiveLeak to be rubbernecked at by online hordes.
Cut to the present day and Laura's former schoolmates are having a typical night in. Our lead, Blaire (Shelley Hennig), is Skype teasing her horny boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm). They're soon joined by their friends: Adam (Will Peltz), Jess (Renee Olstead) and Ken (Jacob Wysocki). The five gabble on dumbly in a five way Skype conversation, but soon notice that there's a silent, sixth person in the conference. Increasingly spooked out, they try and fail to boot them from the chat. Could it be... a ghost?!?
It indeed could be. And, it soon transpires, is. The dead Laura has returned to haunt their laptops and get her unearthly revenge on those that wronged her. She does this by taking control of Spotify, sending rogue Facebook IMs, opening browser videos that playing YouTube videos and eventually possessing people and making them off themselves. Aside from the last one, this makes it a haunting roughly on par with a particularly annoying computer virus. You inevitably think "why don't they just put down their computers and do something else?". The film scrabbles for various reasons why they shouldn't, but this central issue singlehandedly drains a lot of fear from the movie.
Not helping matters is that these characters are all absolutely horrible people. Slavering for the death of annoying teenagers is horror boilerplate, but usually there's at least one character we can root for. Not here - this is a shooting gallery of gormless, self-centred chumps who absolutely deserve the supernatural revenge that's being visited on them. This puts the audience firmly on the ghost's side, the only brief moments of pleasure watching these morons jamming their hands into blenders or deepthroating straightening irons.
That we don't care (and indeed, actively dislike) these characters quickly translates into a vague boredom. You're silently urging this ghost to hurry the hell up and do something nasty. Things aren't exactly helped by the visual flatness of the film - confining the action to a laptop screen makes for an aesthetic that's as conceptually bold as it is visually dull. Thing is, Unfriended is impressive if only in that it exactly simulates watching someone's desktop, right down to the clutter, file names and browser history. That this electronic environment is so familiar gives rise to the few genuine thrills - for example the 'close window' button mysteriously disappearing.
But those are few and far between. Unfriended feels like a slog even at 83 minutes; the characters are horrible, the ghost is dull, the gore is crap and the jump scares are trite. It's a pity, on paper the idea is sound but in practice it simply doesn't work. Weirdly, Unfriended might work a bit better if actually watched it on a laptop. Perhaps it might even make an ambitious ARG videogame. But as a film? Don't bother.
Unfriended is released May 1st.Tags: film , jacob wysocki , levan gabriadze , moses jacob storm , renee olstead , review , shelley hennig , Unfriended , will peltz