While the title is enough to make any discerning person cringe and its unusual concept could have gone horribly wrong, Unfriended is actually quite an effective slice of teen horror – as long as you beef up your ability to suspend disbelief (or you already think teenagers are total morons).
The whole thing takes place in real time and for the entire movie you are watching the computer screen of a teenage girl called Blaire. It’s a year after her friend, Laura, killed herself, but Blaire, her boyfriend Mitch, and three of their friends are more interested in video chatting than mourning the loss.
However, it’s not going to be that easy for them, as there’s a mysterious, silent, sixth person on their video chat, and then Blaire starts getting messages sent to her from Laura’s Facebook account. At first she thinks it’s a sick joke, but then it starts to appear that something stranger and perhaps supernatural is going on, and that perhaps whatever is sending the messages wants the teens to suffer and die.
As with many films where the conceptual idea is all-encompassing (here a movie that shows you a computer screen for 80 minutes), Unfriended has to work hard to tell a story while staying just the right side of preposterous. Sometimes it skirts perilously close to the edge of utter nonsense – not the paranormal aspects, just how the characters react – but it’s still fairly effective.
What helps is that it grounds itself in real issues, as it appears genuinely interested in teen bullying and how callous, thoughtless and self-serving young people can be, as well as the terrible repercussions that can come from that due to the power they have in their hands thanks to the likes of Youtube and Facebook. The more ridiculous aspects are then layered on that, but it ensures there’s a real darkness lurking underneath the teen horror and conceptual hijinks.
Unfriended manages to create tension, and despite the potentially gimmicky set-up it keeps the story moving forwards. Some have complained that the characters are all annoying and unpleasant, but that’s kind of the point – these are supposed to vacuous millennials who’ve been given far more power and information than any generation before them – thanks to modern technology – but who don’t have the knowledge or morality to use it responsibly.
That might be over-thinking it, and indeed if you want characters you’ll like, you’d better look elsewhere. However, I found the whole thing far more satisfying than I’d expected. There is an annoying tendency for the film to feel like it’s setting up a mythology for a potential franchise (a sequel is already planned), and admittedly underneath the concept and look at modern bullying, things are a tad predictable. But even so, it works.
Overall Verdict: There are a lot of daft and slightly clichéd aspects to Unfriended, but thanks to a real interest in modern bullying and a decent amount of tension, it’s not a bad teen horror flick.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac