Monday, April 20, 2015

Movie Review #246: "Unfriended" (2015)

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Director: Levan Gabriadze
Rating: R
Running Time 1 hour, 22 minutes

A group of friends is chatting on Skype when a mysterious unknown caller seemingly hacks their conversation. Things get bad when this unknown party starts making threats, especially when they realize this hacker seems to be making the threats from the account of their dead friend Laura, who committed suicide one year ago after being bullied online. They are soon forced by the hacker to either reveal their secrets or die.

FINALLY!! A found footage film we didn't hate!...except now, we can never use Skype again because we're scared shitless there will be an inescapable glitch that wants to murder us lurking at our every keystroke.

Needless to say, BigJ and I met "Unfriended" with a ton of apprehension since we have been (mis)treated to a lot of really bad movies in the last few years as frequent moviegoers. Found footage films have been public enemy number one for us, but since most of this movie takes place in real time within a fixed shot of the windows of a computer screen, mostly via Skype, there isn't an overabundance of shakiness, thus, no headaches and feelings of vomitousness associated with motion sickness. Also, since it's not a true-found-footage film, there are no absurd reasons why the characters have to carry a video camera wherever they go. There are a few random shots of people's feet here, but these are few and far between. This 100% online filming style is a gimmick, plain and simple, but one that could have easily backfired on its filmmakers. We are pleased to report, however, that this unique take didn't completely suck as we had assumed it might, especially given the current crop of horror movies as of late.

The plot of this flick is rather simple: someone posted an embarrassing video of Laura Barns online, which caused her to get bullied by an endless slew of Internet trolls and so-called friends, and she tragically killed herself because of it. On the one year anniversary of her death, her friends are gathered on a group video chat and Laura starts messaging some of them. When they blame and accuse each other of screwing around with the collective group, horrible things start to happen as this person claims to be their dead, well, Laura. However, "Unfriended" elevates the typical teen slasher genre and brings it into the present day, featuring a group of millennials who seem like they might be better off as enemies, yet call each other friends. Where this film is most effective is in its use of all things social media. Between the calls placed via Skype, links to Instagram photos and web forums, and chatting sessions on both iMessage and Facebook, it all comes together in a cacophony of internet technology to make one creepy, rather unsettling film. It's actually sort of amazing this is the first widely released movie to be one long, giant advertisement for the internet and all of its related products filmed "within" a computer. There is a treasure trove of social media used here, and everything is done all at once. Multitasking is a way of life in our digital world, and though it can be a lot going on in a short amount of time, it shows how our lives take place across a vast array of overlapping windows and tabs. And, of course, all of this goes hand in hand with the current culture of online harassment. In an effort to show what it means to be a teenager growing up in 2015, this film utilizes one of the most common problems caused by the internet today, cyber-bullying, as its catalyst of strife and suffering, though maybe oversimplified. Once the video of Laura gets put online, instead of being helpful, her "friends" distance themselves from the uploading of the video itself, the hateful and hurtful online comments, as well as Laura in general. As a bitter and vengeful spirit, she comes back and torments those who tormented her by playing "never have I ever" games, disabling their delete button capabilities, not allowing them to unfriend her or report her on Facebook, impersonating 911 operators, remotely playing songs to fit the horrifically intense scenarios, and of course, the potential murder of Blaire and all of her friends. In addition, the other creepiest aspect of this film is actually the ghost hacker itself, messing with the teens and reveling all their dark secrets with information it couldn't possibly know unless it was there. Even though the hacker seems to be a ghost, it's really the loss of privacy and the feelings of insecurity that creep us out, not this supernatural element.

This film is not without its flaws. If you enjoy looking at pixelated screens, be prepared for over 80 minutes of them in droves. In order to seem accurate since the entire movie takes place on the computer, the fuzzy web camera footage typical of a mediocre internet connection goes above and way beyond. In a way, instead of the erratic shakiness seen in most found footage films, this movie has over-pixelation and massive amounts of cutaways as its main problems. Also, there is a point at which, since there are 6 friends and 1 mystery person altogether on one Skype call, the yelling and arguing is a bit much and can be rather annoying. We like to use cuss words just as much as the next person, but it often felt quite forced and didn't flow as the director may have thought it should have. This constant bickering is often followed by lots and lots and lots of crying from teenage girls with a flair for the dramatic.

Gripping in most of the right places, "Unfriended" was an overall surprise in that we didn't completely dislike it. In its gimmicky attempt to be something revolutionary, though, there are some glaringly obvious plot points and a few times where we wished the movie could have slowed itself down and revealed more without the need for pixelated cutaways and shrill squabbling. The word "classic" is used so frequently these days it has almost lost its effect, but that doesn't mean this slasher isn't worthy of the credit it should get for being something slightly new in a world full of by the barrel, less than mediocre attempts at making frightful films. Hell, if it can make BigJ and I jump a little bit, it might just be worth watching, so long as they quit while they are ahead.

My Rating: 6.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: ~6.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~65%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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