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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 24, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Horror flick plugs into digital world for scares

"Unfriended"

Directed by Levan Gabriadze

Horror is both one of the most popular genres in film and also one of the most saturated. Most horror films offer the same cookie-cutter cliches audiences have come to expect and nothing original or interesting. “Unfriended” is an exception to this expectation. It not only offers an original premise but also manages to create an engrossing atmosphere that draws viewers in and pulls the rug out from under them at just the right moment to deliver perfect scares.

The film focuses on a girl named Blaire (Shelley Hennig) and her five friends chatting over Skype on the one-year anniversary of the death of Laura Barns, a popular girl who killed herself after being harassed because of an embarrassing video that was posted anonymously online. As the group talks about plans for the weekend, they are constantly tormented by an unknown assailant who speaks through Laura’s Skype and Facebook profiles and demands to know who posted the video. The attacker is convinced one of the group is lying about their involvement because all the members of the group had been bullied by Laura in the past, giving them plenty of motivation to post the video. To wrestle the truth out of them, the assailant threatens not only to reveal all of their darkest secrets to one another, but also to kill anyone who signs off or doesn’t play along. As they are each picked off one by one, it becomes clear that this force isn’t bluffing and will stop at nothing until the truth is revealed.

The film’s strongest aspect is its use of the Internet to create atmosphere. The entire film is shot through the point of view of a computer screen, flipping constantly to Skype, Facebook, Google and other websites, making it feel exactly as if the audience was at home experiencing the film through a laptop. There is no score, save for some songs playing on Blaire’s Spotify and the sound of notification tones, which prove especially effective when the silence is suddenly pierced by the ring of a Skype call or a shrill instant message notification. The use of the Internet setting also works perfectly for building tension, as the connection of the video call freezes and pauses like an actual one at the most climactic moments, only to resume in the middle of whatever horrific action is happening to the victim.

While the cast is made up of relative unknowns, they each deliver pretty convincing performances and manage to convey both the honest terror of the situation and, at the same time, the puzzlement of their characters. This is perfectly shown during a moment where the assailant sends Blaire and Adam (Will Peltz), Blaire’s boyfriend’s best friend, separate messages through their printers that they are not allowed to share with anyone else, but Blaire’s boyfriend Mitch (Moses Storm) demands to see it, or he will sign off. The honest expressions of pure horror plastered on their faces while they attempt to reason with Mitch brings a sincerity to this incredibly impossible scenario they have found themselves in — an honesty that is very rare in most horror films.

Though there are many good elements, the film is not without its flaws. The writing, especially in the first 20 minutes, leaves something to be desired. It feels stilted and does not match up with the obviously realistic tones the director was creating. Also, while a good number of the scares are very effective, some fail to build off of the established mood and terror of the previous scenes, causing the movie to deteriorate as it goes on. The biggest flaw is that the ending, while sufficient and smart for the story, is also extremely predictable. The audience is able to piece everything together right around the halfway point, taking some of the wind out of the sails of the finale and leaving part of it unsurprising and dissatisfying.

Despite these flaws, “Unfriended” still offers many disturbingly tense moments throughout and delivers well-placed scares supported by a solid cast and an excellent Internet atmosphere. It is a rare find among the many mundane horror films that plagued theaters throughout the year, offering a refreshingly original concept and delivering just enough fright that it’ll make viewers think twice about their next Skype chat.