Directed by Leo Gabriadze.
2014. Rated R, 83 minutes.
Moses Jacob Storm
A group of high school friends all get together on a Skype call, like they often do. This time there is is an uninvited person in on the call whom they can't get rid of. This person uses the screen name "billie227," seems to know each of them intimately, and may or may not be Laura Barns. The problem is that today is actually the anniversary of Laura's suicide which was captured on video and posted online. Soon, these friends find themselves fighting for their own lives.
Having everything happen online during a Skype call is a genius modernization of the horror genre. On paper. In actuality, it's a clunkily paced hunk of digital video that drags badly despite running a scant 83 minutes. Its strict adherence to its concept is largely to blame. the entire film is shown from the perspective Blaire's laptop. Blaire (Hennig) is our protagonist and was perhaps Laura's best friend. We not only watch Blaire talk to her buddies, we watch her minimize and maximize various windows and tabs, pick songs to play in the background, type IMs to the same people she's talking to, check out their Facebook pages, etc. When was the last time you were compelled to watch someone else use their computer? If you're old enough to remember that far back, like me, it happened that one day back in the 1990s the first time you saw someone surf the net. If you're not that old, it's probably never happened for you. Therein lies the problem. This particular style of storytelling overestimates itself. It assumes that because it's using a mode we all use all the time, it will automatically feel fresh and captivate us. Instead, we spend much of the first two acts bored to death watching Blaire point, click, and type. It doesn't help that the kids we're stuck with are a bunch of spoiled brats. Calling any of them likable would be a stretch.
Things finally pick up during the third act when our pals start dying at a quicker rate. Any tension and thrills to be had are, for the most part back-loaded into this portion of the film. Attempts at ratcheting up that tension don't quite work because, again, concept overrides storytelling. Things like clicking over to ChatRoulette in an effort to get someone to help jives with the social media saturated aesthetic the film is pushing, but not with the common sense that even these dolts have proven to possess by this point. We're pulled out of the movie, if we were into it at all, and roll our eyes at it. Then, the unlikability takes over and we find ourselves actively rooting for each of them to die. Thankfully, that does start happening. As horror movie kills go, these aren't the most creative or visceral lot, but at least something is happening.
The saving grace for Unfriended is the game of "Now or Never" that sets the third act in motion. Tempers flare, the pace quickens, and we might even find ourselves caring just a bit. The cast, actually pretty competent throughout, really sells it during this section. They even manage to pull us back in a bit. The grand finale is another bright spot. We get a satisfying ending that drives home the message at which the whole movie has been driving. Too bad the energy on display at this time is not present earlier. As a result, we have a film based on a great premise, but is a chore to slog through.