Dir. Levan Gabriadze (2014)
Six friends get on a Skype call that will alter the trajectories of their lives. Like, in a HUGE way.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Unfriended came out in 2014, almost a decade before it would become the way life was lived on an everyday basis. It was one of the first movies to take place (almost) entirely via computer screen, and its flawless presentation of the technology was mindblowing upon its initial release. It was incredibly well done and was pretty polarizing at the time: half of its viewers thought it was groundbreaking while the other half thought it was gimmicky. In my opinion, it is one of the better found footage movies ever made, and I’ll (happily) explain why.
As someone who is a bit older than the technology on display in this film, the first thing that struck me was that this is how teens today are living their lives. However, upon further reflection, this is how we’ve always lived, though we never had the benefit of video calls and integration that we do now. I can easily remember the days when I’d put on an album, chat with my friends online, and be on a telephone call at the same time. Maybe it’s the young mind’s ability to multitask, and maybe that part of the teenage brain is even more developed now; either way, the “gimmick” of this movie is not at all gimmicky when considering how life actually works today. That being said, the events that unfold over the course of the film make this more than just a showcase of technology: this is a goddamned old-fashioned ghost story.
The blue one is the ghost!
The real question that the movie forces upon the viewer is a question of what if. What if, in this technological world in which there is no true anonymity, someone shows up who is anonymous? What do we do if we are on a call with our friends and someone we don’t know who just won’t leave? How much are all of these videos we’re posting and pictures we force down people’s throats going to come back to bite us? In a world in which teenagers’ entire lives are public, how much of that are they going to regret? For the folks involved with this movie, the answer is as real as it gets: if there’s even one thing online that we actually come to regret, it’s too many.
As with most ghost stories, this ghost has been wronged when it was alive, and it’s back for vengeance. We don’t learn the full story until near the end of the movie, but the effective use of the on-screen countdown until scary events is hugely successful in making us anticipate what the ghost will do next. There are some extremely effective gore shots in the film, and while it’s been done to death at this point, when Unfriended came out it was groundbreaking: the random shots of gore thrown onto the viewer’s screen are incredibly effective, and the seemingly random degradation of pictures only adds to the creep factor. By the time the killing starts, we don’t fully know what to expect but we suspect it won’t be good.
I gotta be honest, I've been on some Skype calls that have been less pleasant than this.
This movie is fantastic in my not so humble opinion, but it has one MAJOR flaw. The movie is an hour and twenty three minutes long, and it executes its story to perfection for an hour and twenty two minutes and fifty seconds. If you turned this movie off with ten seconds left on the runtime, it would be a far better movie. That last ten seconds, in which the main character closes her computer screen to show the ghost in real life, ruins the entire mystique of the movie. If it had even had a Sopranos-esque cut to black, it would have been a much better film. Sadly, it did not, and it falls a good bit in the rankings for that simple mistake.
Who this movie is for: Teenagers, Fans of technological hauntings, People who don’t mind turning off a movie JUST before it’s over
Bottom line: Effective, scary, and utilizing the technology well, Unfriended is a lot better than people give it credit for. It’s a gem in the found footage genre despite being a bigger-budget release. I feel like so many horror movies are not given a chance even by horror fans. If that’s you, open your eyes and give it another shot. This is a once-or-twice a year viewing at least.