Movie review: 'Unfriended' an equal dose of cyber-bullying and cyber- stupidity
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Run Time: 1 hour 21 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Heather Sossaman, Will Peltz, Courtney Halverson, Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Renee Olstead, Jacob Wysocki
Directed by Levan Gabriadze (Lucky Trouble)
The entire movie Unfriended (opening today) takes place on a laptop. Yes, the whole thing. As if we don't spend enough time in front of our computer screens, Unfriended invites us out to a theater to stare blankly at a computer screen for a laborious 82 minutes, which most of the time would be considered a short run time for a feature, but here is made to feel like an eternity. Beyond this gimmicky premise, Unfriended is a thin, pathetic attempt at horror, as seen through the eyes of the Snapchat and Instagram generation.
The screen and laptop that we get to gaze upon is that of high school teen Blair (Shelley Hennig). One year ago to the day (ghosts/monsters are always big on anniversaries), her best friend Laura (Heather Sossaman) committed suicide after she was humiliated by online bullies, after a less-than-flattering video of her went viral. Blair is in the middle of a cyber-sex video chat session with her current boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm) when her closest friends - the douchey Adam (Will Peltz), blondie Jess (Renee Olstead), their "funny" friend Ken (Jacob Wysocki) and the annoying Val (Courtney Halverson) - all join in on the call.
The only problem: There seems to be one additional, anonymous person on the call. They try hanging up and restarting the session and the person is still there. They try deleting the person, and can't. Maybe it's a glitch of some kind? The first half-hour of the film is a video chat session where we see these friends interact online, all trying to get this unwanted person off the call, to no avail. Not necessarily the scariest of premises.
But the creep factor is taken up a notch when Blair and Mitch start getting Instant messages and Facebook replies from the deceased Laura. At first they think that it might be someone messing with them, but soon after things get increasingly weird. Before you know it, bad things start happening to all of those on the call. It seems that Laura is back from the grave and looking to take out some revenge on those that she once considered friends.
None of this is remotely scary, or cinematic, as this Laura person tries to shame and embarrass - and then kill - her former classmates. The soap opera-ish plot developments that come out of this are straight out of 90210 (Blair cheated on Mitch...with Adam! Jess spread rumors about Blair having an eating disorder! Oh the shame!)
It might have seemed like a bright idea to try to make a horror film in a way that seems to instantly connect to today's younger audience, but this is a total waste of a movie. While Blair's computer navigation skills are somewhat relatable to us all, what was with their internet connection? The videos freeze, get caught up, and especially when a murder is occurring, seems to come and go like a strobe light. Somebody better call Verizon.
It tries to use familiar horror-genre conventions - a group of unknowing friends who are picked off one by one, an underlying vibe of sexual tension - but the format of how this plays out - on a screen, on our screen - totally sucks the life out of it. Why don't these kids just hang up on the call? Well, Laura threatens to kill them if they do...but it's not like they fared any better by staying on. It's better explained as, if the kids were to hang up, this gimmicky movie would have to end.
The "online" device was interesting if misused, the first 20 minutes or so did include some funny moments and great bits of "modern" dialogue, and the unknown cast actually turned in pretty good performances all-around, but that's about all that there was to like. But shouldn't a horror movie be scary? This is the least scary horror movie released maybe ever, and even as far as horror movies go, one of the worst plots as well. Fairly convenient that each of the three boys in the film had a gun, a sword and a blender handy, not that they would be used in any way...
So is this some sort of elaborate PSA against cyber-bullying? A rally cry against having a Facebook account? The answer is that I could care less. Like an annoying ad that keeps popping up on my computer screen, I just wanted Unfriended to go away.
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