Unfriended - Leo Gabriadze, 2015

Just when we thought the horror genre couldn’t be subverted any more, along comes Unfriended.  This is a ghost story played out in the arena of a group Skype chat using modern technology tropes to lure a knowing audience into the group conversation and also leaving us guessing as to how this horror is going to play out using a medium we haven’t seen before. And therein lies the fun of Unfriended and the horror genre using a style previously unused as a storytelling device. A common complaint about horror is that is can be very formulaic, and whilst some audiences may find this comforting others may become irritated that we know the plot before the title sequence has even ended, which was a key reason for me to go and see this film.

Like all horror genre films, Unfriended’s uncanny otherness encapsulates a modern day fear. With increasing reports of cyber-bullying and the recent ‘revenge-porn’ scandal, where ex-boyfriends/girlfriends share intimate images of each other online to get back at each other, awareness and fear for our private lives and intimate relationship details to stay off-limits to the public is at an all time high, making it the perfect target for the horror genre to tap into. Unfriended does this refreshingly through the use of video chat, messenger, Facebook posts and a plethora of other modern teenage communication devices; a kind of ‘found-footage’ 2.0 if you will. 

Whilst innovative and original in its storytelling devices Unfriended is not completely unfamiliar in narrative style. The movie plays out on the anniversary of a classmate’s suicide in a kind-of homage to I Know What You Did Last Summer, except instead of a killer with a hook for a hand the evil here takes the form of an insidious anonymous account claiming to be that of the dead girl Laura Barns. And in a cyber-age take on the opening scene to Scream, the killer threatens that if any of the group chat members hangs up (from Skype this time, instead of giant cordless phones), they will die. The Skype chat setup of white faces, each illuminated with the ominous neon-halo of the laptop screen, looks like a twisted version of Guess Who, except players who are ‘out’ of the game’s tiles are not merely flipped down. Instead, they are possessed and driven to suicide, which become increasingly graphic, beginning with merely a bottle of bleach in shot as a hint with the first and full frontal Gonzo-porno reminiscent curling-iron-down-the-throat with the last. All of this horror taking place in screens we could quite easily minimise, but of course, we don’t.

I loved the way this film played with the role of communication by placing us with Blaire (a lovely little reference to the mother of the selfie-horror genre The Blair Witch Project), a seemingly innocent girl-next-door type whose first moments on screen are her teasing her boyfriend. As the film plays out, however, her virtuous facade is unforgivingly ripped away piece by piece as the ‘ghost’ plays havoc with the true thing everybody fears when communicating on the Internet: control and the loss of it.

Whilst social media may have revolutionised the way we interact with one another it has also put into our hands the perfect tools to create an online persona, wherein us the controllers choose how much or how little information about ourselves we divulge on the Internet and how much we keep to ourselves. By doing this we construct a personal brand, and everybody has one. You know what I’m talking about, and you’ve read the Buzzfeed articles about the ’12 types of most annoying people on Facebook’, the cringe-worthy couple constantly commenting how much they love each other, or what about that girl who is constantly moaning about every aspect of her life? We create pictures of who we are as a person by the things we post and whether we want to admit it or not, we self-censor ourselves to establish the person we want to be conceived as via the content we post. Now imagine if, for some reason, your computer became possessed and suddenly posted all those ugly photos of yourself that you untagged, or suddenly posted as a Facebook update that you’d been texting and flirting with two different people at the same time or even starting writing using bad language on an account your family can see. To a modern audience this is what is truly frightening.

So as Unfriended goes on bitches and backstabbers are revealed, true colours are made apparent, friendships are torn apart and of course, reputations are shattered as each damning piece of evidence as to who these characters really are is posted on their Facebook walls for everyone they know to see. And this is where my only gripe with the film is. The ending. For a horror praised as innovative and creative, the ended was groan-worthily predictable and left a bad taste in my mouth after what had been a deliciously nasty little tale. Surely the ultimate pay-off of a movie that plays with your peers’ perceptions of you is having them find out what an evil little prick you are, and having to deal with the consequences of that? Death, to me, seems like an easy way out whereas survival and endurance of everyone knowing is where the true horror comes.

I enjoyed Unfriended, it really tapped into that sense of unease we surely all feel when living our lives out online the way we do, and I relished the way director Leo Gabriadze twisted the knife into that unease and spattered its guts all over this wicked flick. Too close to the likes of The Blair Witch Project to be truly revolutionary in its filmmaking style and too drenched in 2015 zeitgeist to become a classic for me, but definitely worth a watch for something a little bit different.