2015, R, 82 min. Directed by Levan Gabriadze. Starring Shelley Hennig, Heather Sossaman, Matthew Bohrer, Courtney Halverson, Moses Jacob Storm, Renee Olstead, Jacob Wysocki, Will Peltz.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 24, 2015
Technophobia and its dehumanizing effect on flesh-and-blood people has been seen in films at least since Charlie Chaplin got caught in the cogs of his 1936 masterpiece Modern Times. James Cameron’s The Terminator upped the ante apocalyptically, but it took the relatively recent arrival of the Internet to really provide a fertile ether for all sorts of contemporary bugaboos, from identity theft to cyberwars, and from the mindless droogisms of online bullying to Edward Snowden’s revelations of global data collection. In that sense, Orwell’s 1984 is happening right about now. Unsurprisingly, the first horror offerings to use computers as conduits to the supernatural came from tech-savvy Japan, with Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s terrifically unnerving Pulse being the high-water mark to date.
Now here’s Unfriended, a not-awful creep-out that’s set entirely online and in real time, amidst the Facebook, Skype, IMs, YouTube, Chatroulette, and Google Chat confabs among a group of teens and an unknown user who claims to be a friend of theirs who committed suicide a year before. A laptop belonging to Blaire (Hennig) provides the window onto the “action” – via the voyeuristic view of the audience via the theatre screen (nicely meta, that) – and while she Skypes racy shots to her boyfriend Mitch (Storm), Unfriended provides a modicum of chills and more gore than you’d expect. Joined by their friends Jess (Olstead), Ken (Wysocki), and Adam (Peltz) in chat rooms, the kids are increasingly freaked out by images, videos, and outright threats by whomever is pretending to be their dead friend. The police are called, but fail to be of any assistance; no one thinks to disconnect their computers and meet up at the public library à la the gang from Scooby Doo, which says more about these millennials’ total immersion in tech and aversion to face-to-face conversations than anything else.
This is Russian-born director Levan Gabriadze’s first genre entry, and he manages the uneasy task of holding our attention throughout the film’s split-screen, video milieu extremely well. What’s missing is the sense of dread which the J-horror films excelled in. As such, it’s a very American-teen spook show, with the tired tropes of the unseen-slasher film firmly in place. Then again, it’s probably better for filmgoers to see Unfriended on the big screen, a genuinely social experience by default, although I suspect the film will find its real home online, on your laptop, in the dark, when you’re all alone.