Directed by Levan Gabriadze.
Naive teens are a staple of horror and always have been. What makes Unfriended different is that the stupidity of teens is not a device to make sure the plot moves forward, rather the circumstances of the plot could only happen to teens of this generation. This seeming amalgamation of Enda Walsh’s Chatroom and The Blair Witch Project by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez goes on to make something frighteningly original.
The story centres around seven American highschoolers and their Skype conversation. The film takes place one year after the death of one of their classmates, Laura Barns. We watch the entire film from a stream of Blaire Lily’s (Shelley Hennig) macbook. After we watch Laura Barn’s suicide video on Youtube and the beginning of the video that caused Laura to commit suicide, we are interrupted by a call from Blaire’s boyfriend, Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm). We are treated to a risque viewing of Blaire and Mitch’s call which is again interrupted by a group call of their friends and a mysterious blank account. This blank account turns out to be the account of Laura Barns, and her Facebook account also begins messaging them. Throughout the film they are forced – by the account – to admit their involvement in the bullying of Laura Barns, and their betrayals of each other.
While on the surface this film might seem like another dull teen slasher, its devices and presentation leave a lasting impact and make this film worthy of discussion. For you film buffs out there, it will be an example of D. W. Griffith’s ‘continuity editing’ taken to it’s zenith, as the whole film takes place in real time and in, essentially, one shot of the computer screen. For those with even a passing interest in current world affairs it will be a stark reminder of the lessons of the NSA and Edward Snowden scandal.
Unfriended also bring into question how safe our digital data is. There is always a risk with digitally recorded information. It is not always in our control. Recently both certain German and Russian government bodies are discussing going back to typewriters for this reason and it pushes to the fore a reminder that we are never really safe online.
What it also questions is the morality of anonymity of our online actions. In the film, the disgusting actions of the teens through their anonymous online accounts are revealed A lot of online interaction takes place in good faith, assuming that a person presents themselves as who they really are. Online we are expected to monitor our own behaviour, and behave in a fair, honest and most importantly legal manner, none of which the teens do. Are we still good people when we can’t be held accountable? Authorities are now using IP tracking to hold us accountable for are online actions but with the advancements in Virtual Access Points, Proxies and deeper encryptions this question is still relevant.
While this film may be a headache for some less tech savvy viewers, for those used to group Skype chats, screen grabs, Spotify, and iMessage it will be something that captures our experience of online communication. While in the beginning the pacing can be a bit slow, the film quickly speeds up once you have come to grips with how it is being told. It sometimes has the feeling of watching a “Let’s Play” video on YouTube, not to say that is a negative – but it certainly speaks to a younger audience.
Overall this is a high concept indie horror with all of the usual hallmarks of that genre. However, it’s concept is so intriguing, that it will leave you thinking twice about your next tweet, upload, status post or checking that anonymous email.