Unfriended review

“Unfriended” is a timely horror film that not only manages to capture the essence of the treacherous waters of social media, but also creates an effective horror film that doesn’t exploit a terribly real problem that an entire generation of youth have to learn to successful navigate.  The film is not only thrilling, but it also presented in a way that fully engages the technology that is already at our disposal in a truly effective way.  This presentation enhances the film and creates a unique voice.

On the year anniversary of the cyberbullied inspired suicide of their friend Laura Barnes five friends find themselves trapped on a group Skype call where a disconnect is terminal.  As the friends struggle with panic, paranoia, anger, and in-fighting they must deal with lingering “guest” on the call who demands answers.  Using Skype, Facebook, FB Messenger, Instagram, email, and Spotify to communicate dialogue, themes, and important ideas.  The technological devices are used wisely, enhance the film, and reinforce its themes.

If it is one thing I walked out of “Unfriended” remembering more than anything, it is that the mistakes you make in life, the little ones here and there, can be infinitely blown out of proportion when presented to an audience that is allowed to act in an unfiltered and anonymous manner.  This is where “Unfriended” succeeds magnificently.

To mirror the way everyone turned on Laura Barnes, upon the posting of her drunken video, the anonymous entity claiming to be Laura masterfully manipulates the online friends into turning on one another by revealing deeply hidden secrets to each other.  The characters are truly believable.  I actually believed that these were teenagers struggling with secrets and deadly online threats instead of just what Hollywood thinks teenagers act and speak like.

Where “Unfriended” falters is story, the set-up and concept work, but once the malignant entity begins to off the friends it becomes a bit more about just revealing secrets and coming up with new ways to push them off the call instead of a potentially wronged entity actively searching for answers.  It seemed that for a while there was less focus on the Laura-entity seeking answers and more of just tormenting and killing the former friends.  While it does move from away from the storyline and cause some plot confusion, it does achieve what I addressed early, using anonymity, the internet, and secrets to sow discord among friends.  It does this well and mirrors the conflict Laura Barnes went through before committing suicide as publicly as she was humiliated.

As an educator I witness my students interact with social media.  I have seen it evolve over the years and I have seen the best and worst of the internet.  I am thrilled that someone finally found a way to make a convincing and engaging horror film centered on the theme of cyberbulling.  Laura Barne’s backstory is sparse, we get almost no information so the focus is solely on the action of posting of the video and the consequences spiraling from that act.

The truth of the matter is we live in a society with almost more cameras than people.  Everywhere we go there is something recording our actions.  Chances are it is someone who would be willing to post it online.  It could be a “friend” with a secret grudge, an enemy waiting to tear us down, or a stranger with no regard for others.  When things like this happen everyone loves to jump on with their moral flags flying high and cry for blood when chances are they have made just as many, if not the same, mistakes.  Oftentimes, the only difference is that they have had the grand fortune of not having it recorded and posted.

The unfortunate reality is that whether we like it or not this is a reality we need to come to terms with.  “Unfriended” is a tragic morality tale for what has happened way too many times in this world already and should never happen again.  What I enjoyed about the film is that for a change I felt sympathetic to all the characters no matter how they were acting.  Fear is a terrible motivator for good choices and as the Laura-entity pushed and pushed the bonds of friendship are stressed to the limit.  Great writing, unique presentation and delivery, all bolstered by realistic, believable acting firmly ground “Unfriended” making it successful despite some mid-film story shortcomings.   

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