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Unfriended – Review

 
 
Overview
 

Release Date: 17 April 2015 [USA]
 
Director: Levan Gabriadze
 
Writer: Nelson Greaves
 
Cast: Heather Sossaman - Matthew Bohrer - Courtney Halverson
 
Direction
 
 
 
 
 


 
Writing
 
 
 
 
 


 
Performance
 
 
 
 
 


 
Sound & Music
 
 
 
 
 


 
Cinematography
 
 
 
 
 


 
Editing
 
 
 
 
 


 
Visual Effects
 
 
 
 
 


 
Total Score
 
 
 
 
 
3/5


User Rating
1 total rating

 


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Posted April 19, 2015 by

 
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Unfriended Review:

It has been apparent for some time now that “found footage” movies have jumped the shark. The form is very limiting and the novelty has long since worn off. It pretty much ran a course that could have been predicted. From the time that The Blair Witch Project took the somewhat sleepy concept and blew it out of the park, it was about eight years for movies like the first {Rec} and the first Paranormal Activity to take it about as far as it was destined to go. Since then, I’m sure we all have our own personal favorites (Quarantine 2: Terminal, an American remake of the {Rec} franchise, is the one I like best), but it’s hard to say that anyone has really done anything new with the form. Recent films like Willow Creek and As Above, So Below have been modestly worthy at best.

But there are still some new wrinkles to be revealed. And Leo Gabriadze’s teen chatfest Unfriended is an entertaining, if ultimately thin, reworking of the found footage form. Gabriadze, with a screenplay by Nelson Greaves, essentially uses a computer screen as his sole frame for the 82 minute suspense film. The screen belongs to Blaire Lily, and on it, she watches YouTube videos, Google search results, and her FaceTime friends. And we watch too. Since Blaire’s computer has a camera, we see her as well.

There is also a stranger who infiltrates the chats that Blaire and her friends engage in, and it becomes quickly apparent that this unknown entity, who goes by the name Billie, is in some way tied to a former friend, who was bullied into committing suicide one year earlier, after a humiliating video of her had gone viral. Billie will engage Blaire and five of her friends in various online games designed to test their friendships and uncover ugly truths that each wants hidden.

This is a clever premise, and cyber bullying is obviously a hot button topic in 2015. Gabriadze and Greaves do a nice job of kicking it off, innocuously inserting the avatar-less Billie into the proceedings. They build the tension effectively as misfortune begins to befall the friends. The central sequence, when the friends are required to play an embarrassing game of “Never Have I Ever” is quite good. And there are several good horror shocks throughout.

Ultimately, even at 82 minutes, the action gets a little redundant, which is one of the hallmarks of found footage movies. There is some dead time, and one or two scenes in which it becomes hard to tell exactly what we are looking at. But these are not major problems. The major problem comes more along the lines of basic conception.

Billie is all-powerful. This really isn’t a fair fight because Blaire, et. al. never have a chance at winning the game. Even if some of them are able to find a way out in the end (and I won’t reveal whether that happens), we know that in most scenes the kids’ efforts are futile. This actually hurts our involvement in the suspense. This isn’t all that different from many teen horrors in which we know a certain number of characters are mere fodder. But in the best of them, we can see a way out, if only the kids notice in time. In Unfriended, when the proverbial hammer falls, we understand there was never a way out. The visceral pleasure merely comes from seeing how creative Billie can be in dispatching her brand of justice.

That brand of justice is somewhat arbitrary, and that is the other element that keeps Unfriended from being quite as good as it might be. Teens are punished for keeping secrets. Obviously, if that were a legitimate reason for execution, there would only be about six people left on Earth. Unfriended flirts with big ideas – the hypocrisy of self-righteousness, the cruelty inherent in anonymity, the very nature of dishonesty. These character flaws are exacerbated in the virtual world, where they can cause irreparable, real-life harm. But Unfriended really isn’t terribly concerned with its characters as people or with these themes as genuine issues. There isn’t debate and discussion. There are no shades of gray. There is just Billie’s unquenchable thirst for revenge. Though Greaves screenplay hints at back stories for its characters, there is really nothing in the script that suggests anything more than a set of raw, fraying emotions.

Fortunately, Gabriadze gets very good performances out of his young and mostly unknown cast. They build realistic bewilderment over what is happening and when the time comes to hit those fraying emotions, they do it very effectively. No one particularly stands out, though I liked Will Peltz as the most hotheaded of the gang quite a bit. In a sense, the performances are reminiscent of the fine work turned in by the unnamed performers in 2013’s found footage riff, The Upper Footage.

It Follows remains the most stylish and interesting horror film of 2015, but Unfriended is a decent addition. Though it can be silly and slow every once in a while, it also provides surprisingly good humor, action and suspense, shackled as it is to one teen-age girl’s computer screen.

 

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Jonathan Eig
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