Saturday, May 14, 2016

Review: Unfriended

Starring: Heather Sossaman, Matthew Bohrer, Courtney Halverson
Directed by: Leo Gabriadze
Language: English
Rating: R
Running Time: 83 minutes

I would like to admit that I didn't intend on seeing this movie at all. The premise seemed silly and for all I know it could be the same quality as Open Windows or something. So, what led me to this point of checking out this movie? The public opinion, of course. Usually their opinions cause me to roll my eyes, but I had to feed my skeptical feelings of this actually being good.

High school student Laura Barns took her own life after being bullied and harassed after a video of being drunk at a party is uploaded online. One year later, her closest friend Blaire Lily views the video of Laura's suicide and is soon interrupted by her boyfriend Mitch Roussel via Skype. They tease each other and joke around about losing their virginity together, until their classmates Jess, Ken, and Adam join them for a video chat. During their conversation, they notice a mystery extra person has joined their chat group under the screename "billie227". The group tries to get rid of the uninvited guest from their chat and suspect that it is another classmate named Val trying to prank them. They soon invite her to the group and decide to ignore the mysterious billie227, until some incriminating pictures of Val is posted on Jess's Facebook and their mystery guest begins to play a little game with them to expose the truth of Laura's death.

Going into this movie, I was skeptical and was waiting to cringe from the unlikable characters that horror movies like these are plagued with. Fortunately, this movie doesn't have that and that makes me really happy. I would like to think Leo Gabriadze maybe read my post or something, but that's clearly wishful thinking. I'm not saying that you're going to be on the characters' side or anything, because they're all unlikable except for Mitch as time goes on, but they're not annoyingly unlikable. These teenagers seem real and you can kinda tell how you're going to feel about them right from the start. I did care about their well being of at least most of the characters. I think the most intriguing thing about this movie is the way it is shot. Similar to Open Windows, it focuses on the action on Blaire's laptop screen. So, every time she checks her Facebook, looks up contacting the dead, or private messaging Mitch, we see it. Basically, the movie fuses found footage elements with a semi-first person point of view on a computer together in a unique way. I rather like this technique. It makes you feel like you're right there with Blaire in her bedroom, trying to figure out whether this is some sick prank, the dead is talking from the other side, or perhaps Laura isn't dead at all. With this slightly new perspective and the way the story unfolds really gets you involved with the supernatural presence playing with them. Whatever is going kept my eyes glued to the television and my brain tried to figure out what was going on. I also was internally hoping the conclusion wasn't some throwaway paranormal thing with a nonsense or convoluted explanation.

Returning back to the characters of this movie, there were a couple of useless classmates that didn't win me over completely. They didn't annoy me or anything, but specifically Ken felt pointless to me. I don't think he had much dialogue and he felt like a trope: that dorky, fat kid that people are friends with, but still make fun of. Yeah, that character. Adam and Val were borderline useless characters, but they did add a little bit to the story. I guess you can't have too much suspense with only 3-4 characters. Once the truth slowly revealed itself and things got more interesting, I did become a bit wary with the character deaths. They were either well executed with great suspense and camera technique or just plain odd and a bit ridiculous. Another thing I want to point out is that they didn't do much with Blaire's research on conversing with the dead. I don't know if it was completely necessary information or they could've left it on the cutting room floor, but the more I think about it, looking up such things does seem realistic. I can see someone copy Blaire's idea and use online sources like Google or Wikipedia to find out what the heck was going on, but I wish they did more with it. Since the sequel has been greenlit, maybe they'll delve into that more.

Unfriended is another addition to movies that are transforming the modern horror genre, which makes me happy. Although, I know that this movie can be hit or miss for some people, I did genuinely enjoy this cyber trip. The characters weren't obnoxious, it didn't turn into some Paranormal Activity stunt, and it hooked me right in when billie227 began to talk to our movie's group of friends. Seeing that there's a sequel in the works makes me both curious and worried. I feel like this movie should simply be a standalone, but I guess when you make over 10 times your budget back, it's hard to resist not expanding the lore. Hopefully, it doesn't get too crazy like the Paranormal Activity franchise and perhaps do something more innovative with this laptop perspective found footage gimmick.

Rating: 3.5/5

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