Director: Leo Gabriadze
Screenwriter: Nelson Greaves
Cast: Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson, Heather Sossaman
Release date: March 13, 2015 (SXSW)
Unfriended is the story of a group of friends chatting online, told through the screen of Blair (Shelley Hennig, Teen Wolf) on the anniversary of their friend’s death. Soon Blair and the group realize they’re being stalked by a vengeful online presence and horror ensues.
The idea of a social media horror film is, at first, entirely hilarious. I Post What You Did Last Summer? Online no one can hear you scream? The Skype is coming from inside the house…
I made these immediate comparisons (jokes) when I saw the trailer, and after viewing the film, I see I wasn’t far off. Unfriended follows a familiar formula. From the awkward (rapey) cyber-sex that opens the film to the one-by-one grisly deaths, it’s a classic set-up and it works surprisingly well.
What makes this film successful and honestly quite enjoyable is its foundation in real fear. Like all great horror, Unfriended accesses the zeitgeist of a generation, tapping into our subconscious and conscious terror: loss of privacy; incriminating/embarrassing content existing forever online; secrets broadcast to the world in a second, only to define us for the rest of our lives. And like all great horror, the film accesses not only fear of external forces, but also our inner-most horror, those secret wrongdoings we hope to hide from the world, terrible things we do when we believe we are anonymous. Like all beloved scary stories, Unfriended exists to teach a valuable lesson.
But the value of Unfriended isn’t all theoretical. It’s a low-budget film, and they made the excellent decision to use this to the story’s advantage. The murder weapons are household items (the blender was pretty grisly) and the various settings are tight, claustrophobic spaces. Nelson Greaves’ writing is strong. The entire story unfolds on Blair’s computer screen, and the storytelling is an incredible combination of Skype video/chat, Facebook posts/messages, Google searches, Google histories, YouTube videos, memes, and webpages. Even her cursor movements help to tell the story. The subtlety is refreshing and effective.
The web story elements are entirely innovative, and yet they resemble timeless horror techniques. For example, the Skype connection is constantly breaking up, which at first is annoying but quickly becomes unnerving. The video chat contorts human faces into unrecognizable, inhuman shapes. The first time a call is dropped, the suspense is palpable.
Though the movie is entirely on a computer screen, it feels completely natural (a scary thought all on its own). Make no mistake: this isn’t another found footage film. This is the first film I’ve seen that captures the experience of living, existing, in an online space. Incredibly current in its premise but timeless at its core, Unfriended marks the beginning of a new era. This is folklore for the millennial generation.
Unfriended was previously picked up by Universal Pictures for distribution and will hit theaters on April 17, 2015.