*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Nearly every horror movie in this day and age has people being haunted or chased or beguiled by ghosts and demonic possessors and the like. We live in a world where we can get the likes of It Follows, which takes the slasher movie and innovates it with a fresh approach but, outside of this, takes the time out to give the audience characters who are relatable and likable or, at the least, make the people on screen seem like PEOPLE who are not terrible or awful and, to a point, unrealistic. It takes a combination of those two things to reach for greatness, but a horror movie can still be effective if it has one or the other: believable characters - even if it's just one or two - who have some dimension, or an approach that is cinematic. Found footage movies may be questionable at times for how the characters use the form of cinema itself - why not put down the camera during a particular moment, but I'll get back to that later - but there is a recognizable format for seeing characters on a screen doing things.Bottom of the barrel horse shit.
Can there be a movie that pulls off the "gimmick" of multiple characters on a computer screen, via Skype, in real time? Maybe. I don't doubt any kind of innovation can work. But is Unfriended "innovative"? No, it's not. With cinema, you can have moments of text on a screen. But to this extent? Half of this movie is AIM-style messaging and facebook back-and-forth. That is not, to my perspective, very cinematic. What is there about all of that text to be much engaging? At times we're simply watching the faces of these teenagers as they type. Only once or twice does anyone even, I don't know, pick up a PHONE to call someone. There were times, many of them, where I wondered to myself: 'Can this even really be called a MOVIE'?
And I get it, sort of. The filmmakers' point is that this is a time where 'Millennials' are living their lives online. But this could still be made compelling IF there were people to care about or fuller stakes or actual, you know, scares. What we get with Unfriended as anything close to a story is that Lauren Barns killed herself following cyberbullying, and a year later as her former friends are chatting on Skype Lauren messages the main girl, Blaire, who's computer-screen we are seeing throughout. It's akin to I Know What You Did Last Summer, only instead of a man with a hook in a raincoat, it's an un-seen "Ghost" of some sort who, over the course of a real-time 80 minutes, takes out the characters one by one via "Games". It's an approach that makes Haneke's Funny Games subtle by comparison.
Unfriended is bad news from minute one. First and foremost, there is not a single identifiable character in the movie, not one. And just when you think you're on a character's side - just due to the usual of 'This is the "Main" character' - that rug is pulled out as well by film's end. These teenagers... there is a tradition of stupid, mindless and obnoxious teenagers killed off for reasons in horror movies for decades. But rarely have I seen one where the characters a) show so little dimension, being navel-gazing bores and worse, and b) when the "secrets" start coming out are even worse than they were before. And can you root for a computer-ghost to kill characters? Do we know enough really about her to care? Or about anyone? Little hints of the pasts of these people are shown, some relationships, but by the time it gets to that it doesn't matter - just get to the next character after that Countdown Clock BS, and show the gruesome carnage.
It's unpleasant to watch not because it's difficult to take the violence, but it's difficult to take the experience as a whole. Because the story and characters are wretched and boring and monotonous, one notices the flaws in the gimmick more and more. And unlike other found footage movies, this one strains credibility even further than before: what is stopping them from just, I dunno, turning off their computers? Would the problem be solved? No, then it would become just another generic ghost-revenge movie that we've already seen. But, and I can't stress this enough, the director and writer (who I believe are in their 40's), seem to have a kind of contempt for these teenagers, and by proxy the audience themselves. And moments where tension could be built up - like when Blaire contacts someone via Chat Roulette (!) to contact the police - it feels like padding, and idiotic at that. Why can't you call the police yourself? Oh, yes, that would require logic.
There are a few moments where I laughed - not for anything exactly genuine, but at characters' actions ("CLICK THE (BLEEP) LINK!") or one death involving a, no kidding, blender. But overall, Unfriended is presented in the guise of being innovative and terrifying, and is actually a pretentious, offensive-to-the-senses experience in "Modern" horror (in air quotes). It's deep down a nasty piece of work (and I don't mean in any kind of complimentary sense) in the ways that a movie should usually matter, even for a shallow horror trip for teens. And it uses cyber-bullying, a real and terrible thing, for exploitative results. It made me feel hateful for everything about technology and teenagers and the world, and myself for having sat through it.