Monday, October 5, 2015

Unfriended


Directed by Leo Gabriadze.

2014. Rated R, 83 minutes.
Cast:
Shelley Hennig
Moses Jacob Storm
Renee Olstead
Will Peltz
Jacob Wysocki
Courtney Halverson
Heather Sossaman

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.


18 comments:

  1. Great review! Jenna and I are planning on braving a couple of horrors this month and Unfriended was one I had in mind for us. It sounds genius on paper but I imagined it wouldn't work out too well on the big screen. Glad to see it has it's moments, though!
    - Allie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It does have its moments. I'm on the borderline with it, so I think its still worth a look just to see if you like it.

      Delete
  2. I agree the characters are unlikeable but I kinda feel they are intended to be. The film, I feel, is about social network bullying/shaming and I found these scenes to be amongst the scariest, it's evil what some kids do to each other. I'm pretty sure they filmed and uploaded a rape sequence (the girl was passed out), correct if I am wrong. Luckily, when I was in the early years of High School social media hadn't quite taken off as it has now.

    I actually really liked this film, and it's one of my highest rated horror films. Guess it goes to show rating films is flawed. Haha.

    Good review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is absolutely about those horrible things. And there should be more movies made about it. I just don't think it's a good enough film to make its message resonate.

      Delete
  3. This is one I actually am interested in seeing, despite the mixed thoughts on the gimmick of it all. Nice balanced review, buddy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's work a look to see if it works for you. Thanks!

      Delete
  4. I don't think I have the patience for this one. Can I just count reading your reviews as having watched my quota of scary movies?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you want to count it that way, I won't be the one to stop you.

      Delete
  5. Also, I wanted to say a great big thank you for always being so supportive, but particularly on our recent post where we interviewed local actors. I know it's not an inherently interesting piece, but every kind word from strangers meant a great deal to these two as they embark on a new career, and it means a lot to me as well that you took the time to do it. Jay

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No problem at all. If it encourages them in even the slightest manner to keep striving for what they want or for you to continue that great blog then I'm reaping ad much benefit as anyone.

      Delete
  6. Pity. One of those films that for all its potential you just have a strong feeling would be bad.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Whoa, whoa...whoa. Thus movie was shockingly good, at least on a technical level. I actually think the concept borders on brilliance, you know? But yes, these kids were all shitty. But.....at this age, felt par for the course.

    Dude, what about that opening? That shit was freaky.

    Oh, and 9 million points for mentioning that time when we watched someone surf the net for the first time. That pulsing N was pure MAGIC.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll grant you the opening. And for the first we watched someone surf the net I was thinking more about that melodic dial-up sound and getting kicked off because someone else had to use the phone.

      Delete
  8. Great review! I slammed this movie with my shitfest entry, and agree with most of what you say. And though I agree with you that the ending matched what the film was trying to say, I still found it thoroughly underwhelming. I also could not stand the constant arguing by teenagers, yelling over another constantly... that really did my head in.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This one worked for me. It shouldn't have done but it did. I never thought a filmmaker could turn the "user typing" message in Skype or Facebook into a dramatic piece of cinema but Unfriended managed it for me.

    ReplyDelete