United States. Directed by Leo Gabriadze, 2014. Starring Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Renee Olstead. 83 minutes.
If there’s a horror story hoarier than the tale of the wronged teenager taking revenge on his or her tormentors, then I haven’t heard of it. But at least screenwriter Nelson Greaves and director Leo Gabriadze found a new way to tell it: they present the film as screen-capture footage of a MacBook desktop and Skype sessions.
Of course, that’s not to say that they’ve managed to find a twist on the story or character types, the latter of which includes seeming “good-girl” protagonist Blaire (Shelley Hennig), her beefcake boyfriend Mitch (Moses Storm), Mitch’s bro-ish bestie Adam (Will Peltz), promiscuous blonde Jess (Renee Olstead), chubby hacker nerd Ken (Jacob Wysocki) and brash, obnoxious Val (Courtney Halverson). They’re very tight, considering they don’t seem to like each other all that much.
One evening, they’re all Skyping when they start receiving mysterious Facebook messages from Laura (Heather Sossaman), the seventh member of their posse. The catch? Tonight is the first anniversary of her death. She committed suicide after an unknown individual posted a video to YouTube of her making a drunken ass of herself at a party. Maybe it’s Laura’s ghost or just some sick fuck pretending to be her, but whoever it is, you just know they’re eventually going to pick off the characters one by one.
While the filmmakers occasionally subvert teen-horror expectations (pay very close attention to who reacts to what during the extended game of Never Have I Ever that takes up the latter half of the film), the story is familiar and so is the structure. Very little here will surprise you. What makes Unfriended worth watching is the presentation.
The filmmakers use the format in ingenious ways, to build attention, to dole out backstory. When communicating in chat windows, the messages Blaire chooses not to send–typing out and deleting–tell us more than the messages she actually sends. Gabriadze keeps the pace taut, lean, and highly effective. While I wouldn’t necessarily call the film scary–I couldn’t take the kill scenes seriously, they were too cartoony–it is reasonably tense. Everyone puts in a good performance, especially Hennig and Storm. And I appreciated the film’s ultimate moral about the evils of cyber-bullying.
None of this takes away from the fact that, once again, it’s time to sit back and watch some unpleasant teenage assholes scream at each other and get it in the neck. And believe me, these jerks go out of their way to make sure you loathe them. Every question the film poses at its beginning turns out to have the most obvious answer imaginable.
Overall, Unfriended is a fun slasher with a neat gimmick that keeps the audience engaged when the story sags. I doubt it will wow anyone the way Behind the Mask or Hatchet did, but I suspect it will have some rewatch value and find a decent following in the future.
It is, however, a bit of a one-trick pony…which means I’m not particularly looking forward to the inevitable sequel.