Enjoyment of Unfriended depends heavily on the viewers familiarity with social media and its associated youth culture. If you are not “tech savvy”, then you may struggle with the films format, which is presented as an ongoing Skype call, with additional use of Google, You Tube and other sundry apps. I started watching Unfriended in my lounge but struggled to read the onscreen text even on a 40-inch TV screen. I eventually end up viewing the film at my desktop PC, sitting a lot closer to the screen. Watching the movie in the same way as you would consume real online content IE at a computer or via a laptop or tablet, does indeed enhance the viewing experience and give the story a greater sense of immediacy. I’m curious as to how Unfriended came across during its theatrical release and whether big screen digital projection added to the atmosphere or diminished it.
The story is a clever variation on a well-established horror theme. Five high-school friends, Blaire, Mitch, Jess, Ken and Adam are chatting on Skype when an unexpected six person joins their call. The “guest” claims to Laura Barns, a friend who committed suicide a year ago after a video was posted on You Tube of her drunk and incontinent at a party. At first the friends simply suspect the caller to be a “internet troll” but it soon becomes clear that the person knows a great deal about them, as they begin to reveal their worst secrets. As the group starts to turn on each other, it becomes clear that that something distinctly supernatural is happening. Is the mysterious caller the ghost of Laura Barns, who has returned to seek revenge on those who wronged her? The friends try to disconnect the mysterious caller but are told that they must all remain online and participate in a game, or else one of them will die.
The structure and format of Unfriended is by far its best-selling point. Beyond the creativity of the medium used to tell the story, the film is standard supernatural revenge tale. The lead characters are far from likeable but very relatable and plausible. The screenplay by Nelson Greaves briefly touches upon that peculiarly American social foible of worrying about being perceived as “a good person”. Naturally in this case the cast are shown to be superficial, backstabbing, narcissists that are the embodiment of “generation consume”. The shocks are not anything special, but the narrative does successfully manage to sustain a strong atmosphere of disquiet. All performances are good in so far as the characters all come across as convincingly duplicitous and hypocritical. The ending is suitably hyperbolic and what you expect from such a specific genre movie.
I’m all in favour of the horror genre experimenting in such a fashion as this, because it is through this process that it remains relevant. Despite my own age related bias and my over familiarity with the horror genre, I enjoyed Unfriended far more than I expected. However, its success has already spawned a sequel and I wonder if social media-based horror is destined to go the same way as the found footage genre. I not sure if it can sustain such a level of interest before the novelty of presenting a story in such a fashion becomes old. However, horror cinema has proven to be a very robust medium so only time will tell. In the meantime, as younger viewers have taken to Unfriended like a duck to water, I would encourage the older open-minded horror fan to give it a go. They may find some virtue in it and enjoy how many classic horror tropes are given a new spin.