Friday, April 17, 2015 marked the official theatrical release of the much-anticipated, and much-hyped horror film Unfriended. Nerd Nation Magazine was in attendance for the advance press screening two nights earlier on the previous Wednesday, courtesy of Universal Pictures and Regal Cinemas.
Originally titled “Cybernatural,” the found-footage horror made quite a splash on the film festival circuit during late 2014/early 2015, earning Russian director Levan Gabriadze no small amount of praise, and ultimately major theatrical distribution – and of course a new title – through Universal Pictures.
Unfriended tells the story of Blaire Lily, a high school student, who during a private and intimate Skype date with her boyfriend, Mitch, experiences a strange computer glitch which adds their friends Jess, Adam, and Ken to the video chat. The teens go with it and carry on a group chat, when suddenly they notice an unidentified user (with their webcam turned off) has somehow infiltrated the conversation, and is presumably hacking into all of their computers.
As they attempt to boot the hacker off, they begin to receive Facebook messages from Laura Barns, a classmate who following the release of an embarrassing video of her drunk and defecating herself at a party, committed suicide exactly one year ago to the day. Unable to rid themselves of the hacker, the mysterious assailant asks the teens questions regarding Laura’s death, threatening death of anyone who logs off, or doesn’t play along in their twisted game – a deadly version of the classic party/drinking game “Never Have I Ever,” no less. Upon confirming this whole debacle to be far more than just idle threats, the high schoolers are now forced to come face-to-face with some very harsh realities – both about their classmate’s suicide, and each other.
Unfriended occurs completely in real-time, and the audience only ever sees what appears on Blaire’s MacBook laptop. In fact, there isn’t a single moment of the film where the audience sees any other perspective. This adds a very different perspective than typical found-footage films, and invokes an almost claustrophobic vibe to it all. The film does a fair job of building suspense and tension, mixed in with a few jump scares, and the story and characters unfold nicely.
Being shown from the aforementioned sole perspective of Blaire’s computer screen, this film is obviously very innovative, and definitely makes the most out of its limited budget, however this is also its biggest weakness. Simply put, while very creative, it just doesn’t exactly work on the big screen. Halfway through the film, I was personally starting to have a hard time staying invested in the story. While the story wasn’t bad at all, it honestly just felt like I was staring over the main character’s shoulder the entire time as she Skyped, and Facebooked, and iMessaged, and surfed the web, and watched videos, and multitasked like crazy – so much, in fact, that I started to laugh as I wondered if anyone actually does that much at once on any computer- and I had to watch all of this on a giant movie screen. While I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that don’t mind the whole “looking over your friend’s shoulder as they use the computer” thing so much, I’ve just never been one to enjoy that, at all. In fairness, however, I’d wager that seeing this film ON A COMPUTER would be a much more enjoyable experience, and likely even add to the realistic, atmospheric, and outright creepy nature of it all.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, Unfriended isn’t a bad movie by any stretch, it’s just not a particularly good one. While the film is highly innovative, suspenseful, and atmospheric, and I personally liked it, I also have to acknowledge that it just doesn’t work on the big screen. My advice: save your money on the ticket, and just watch this one at home on your computer (in the dark and alone, preferably) – I’m pretty sure this one is much better in its more natural environment. — 6.5/10
Editor: Nerd Nation Magazine