Unfriended takes a deceptively complicated premise and uses it to craft one a compelling story that has you on the end of your seat until the final moment. Yes, I know the moment people heard about a horror movie told entirely on Skype between a group of teenage friends, the eye rolling commenced, but seriously – this flick does a lot of things right.
The story takes place one year after the suicide of Laura Barnes, a girl who was ruthlessly bullied and humiliated online by her classmates. On the anniversary of her death, a group of friends, hanging out in a Skype session, begin receiving strange messages from her various social media accounts. They initially brush it off as a troll looking for laughs, but it soon becomes apparent that this infiltrator has an agenda, and can’t easily be silenced or ignored.
The entire film takes place in real time, and is told through the computer screen of one of the characters. Through videos, chat logs, the Skype window, and Facebook, we not only get the events at hand, but also learn the background of the story and its characters pretty seamlessly. Through the skilled execution, what alternately could have been clumsily handled thorough unnecessary verbal exposition is instead told through a series of browser windows and gives exactly what we need to accept and understand the scene as it plays out before us. At first glance, the premise might seem a little gimicky, but the way it pulls everything together is incredibly effective.
Particularly noteworthy is the way it builds suspense. As the story goes on, this group becomes more and more on edge as the mysterious visitor becomes more and more unpredictable. Tensions rise, tempers flair, and a great sense of suspense is created. Dread builds as the characters begin to understand just what this presence has access to, and the lengths to which it will go to get what it wants. And though you don’t necessarily get the life stories of any of these characters, you get exactly what you need to understand who they are and their relationship to one another.
It’s not just the storytelling method that makes this film work – Unfriended is just the latest entry into a time-honored horror tradition. You see, horror has long been an arena of consequence. Films, legends, folk tales – so often it comes back to warnings and stories telling of consequences for our actions. Not straying too far from home, fearing the dangers of the wilderness, taking care to preserve one’s morality. Unfriended is great because it takes that concept into the technology age, creating a new warning for sins of the modern world. The message stays the same and is eternally relevant – beware the dangers of forces unseen – but the method has evolved into something distinctly millennial. Seeing this enduring notion told in a way so distinctly of this time is part of what makes this film work as well as it does.
It’s easy to brush this movie off based on its premise, but I promise – this one is well worth your time. It works not only for the skillful execution of its set-up but also in the fact that at its core, it is really just another example of a time-honored story that has turned up in horror for decades. The film is great – scary, suspenseful and effective, and a hell of a way to bring the supernatural to a modern touchpoint. A cautionary tale for the modern age