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Universal // R // August 11, 2015 // Region 0
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Jesse Skeen | posted August 5, 2015 | E-mail the Author

It would be an incredible cliché to start out this review commenting on how people spend so much of their time online nowadays, but it's also very true- this review itself is obviously going online. The first movie I remember that dealt with people's personal lives online and potential problems was 1995's The Net, when the whole thing was still relatively new to most people- I remember when that was released thinking how dated it would likely become in a few years, and I'm still meaning to give that another look soon. Since then the online world has been portrayed in the movies fairly regularly (1998's You've Got Mail signaled to me that it had pretty much become mainstream), with its darker side of anonymous tormenting shown most notably to me in the recent made-for-cable movie "Cyberbully" which I found unintentionally funny. As I usually don't like to know too much about a movie until I actually get to see it, I expected Unfriended to be a heavier version of that, and could either work or be another unintentional comedy depending on its execution.

It turns out Unfriended uses a rather unconventional format, which is something I'm always open to: the entire movie is presented as a continuous real-time view of character Blaire Lily's (Shelley Hennig) computer screen- not once does the movie ever away or even zoom in on anything. Blaire lives in Fresno, CA where a year ago fellow high school student Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman) committed suicide after being humiliated by a video posted to YouTube (the movie wisely uses all real websites and services rather than any fictional ones) showing her passed out drunk at a party. Her actual suicide at school also just happened to be caught on camera and uploaded on LiveLeak, which Laura looks at as the movie starts. She's soon interrupted by a call on Skype from her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Storm), and the two flirt with each other until the call is suddenly joined in on by their friends Jess (Renee Olstead), Adam (Will Peltz) and Ken (Jacob Wysocki)- although neither of the two had done the proper clicking to bring them onboard. Even stranger is that there's an additional silent participant in the conversation, shown only as Skype's default avatar. None of the others can boot them out of the call, but the mysterious user soon identifies themselves (through typing) as- the deceased Laura Barns! Blaire starts getting private messages from her Facebook profile, eventually saying "I want your help". (The movie's title comes from Blaire "unfriending" her on Facebook, hoping that will stop the messages. One of the movie's proposed titles was Cybernatural which I think would have been more accurate.) Of course the friends all think it's really one of them playing a joke, but Mitch soon sends Blaire a link to one of the movie's few fictional websites, which has accounts of others being messaged online by the dead and the bad things that had happened when they responded. For the movie to really work, the viewer just has to accept this.

Blaire still thinks another of their friends is behind this, the rather stuck-up Val (Courtney Halverson) and rings her into the conversation. From here on the mysterious guest torments them increasingly, posting incriminating pictures and videos (of such shenanigans as cheating on one another) online under various names. This gets everyone agitated and some threaten to simply go off-line (the logical solution) but they're messaged "If you hang up, all your friends will die." The situation intensifies further when one by one, participants in the conversation mysteriously begin to disappear, with their video feeds glitching just as odd things begin to happen to them.

The entire movie runs just 82 minutes so it doesn't quite wear out its welcome before it ends. One's enjoyment of Unfriended will still depend on the willingness to accept the computer screen as the narrative, as well as the characters themselves- when all is revealed, the participants and "victim" all appear to be rather awful people- stereotypical lying, "drunk partying" types who you'd usually root for the killer to hit in a slasher movie. As the cast has all appeared in other productions, their portrayals are at least convincing enough to buy into the concept that you're watching an online conversation and not a bunch of actors, even if they don't quite do what you'd advise them to do in real life (halfway through I wondered why they didn't remain signed-in online so as not to anger Laura, but left their homes and met up together to better handle their predicament?) While not everyone will consider constantly staring at a computer screen compelling enough to warrant a movie (if you thought Halloween Resurrection had too much online footage, you likely won't be able to watch this), it works well enough if you're willing to go with it. Again I was impressed that most of the websites and such were real and not fictional, and there are plenty of details to go back and freeze-frame on and read if you're the type who likes to examine details in movies.

The only irritating aspects of the production were the technical glitches that so many films insist on including when depicting on-line activity- in this case, the Skype video feeds periodically pixelate and stutter with the same effect as a weak digital TV signal (which I've never seen duplicated as such online) also with some accompanying static in the audio which you would never hear in real life- the sound would either be audible or cut out. (At least they didn't include any analog video glitches like I've seen in other movies including the Halloween sequel; that really destroys a film's credibility for me.) The glitches manifest themselves heavily, with the characters' video cutting out completely showing "buffering" icons, conveniently when the most pivotal moments occur so that we don't get to see exactly what happened.


The Blu-Ray's hi-def presentation produces the intended effect of viewing Blaire's computer screen- I'm not sure how well it played out in theaters, but as I regularly conduct my on-line activity on my TV screen (in fact, I'm typing this review out on it) it worked well enough- had I been watching this half-awake as I sometimes do, I likely would have spontaneously reached for the mouse at least a few times.

As with many current releases, a standard DVD is also included. Since this movie was so short I had time to watch it again on that disc as well, and if there's still anyone out there who thinks there's little difference between the two formats this would make a good argument against that. Despite being a rather "lo-tech" movie that might not warrant a hi-def presentation, the DVD clearly showed its inferiority here- much of the onscreen text was quite hard to read (at least on a large screen), almost lending itself to being ignored and just concentrating on the dialogue.


While Unfriended would have worked with a simple mono track, it gets a 5.1 sound mix with DTS Master Audio on the Blu-Ray and Dolby Digital on the DVD. The sound mix is a bit interesting for what it is; most of the sound stays front and center with clear sounds of Blaire typing on her keyboard with the other participants sounding like tinny laptop speakers. There's a bit of atmospheric sound to the left and right as well, including a dog barking somewhere in the house. The closest there is to a "music score" comes in the form of an increasing LFE track with voices drowned out in the background as Blaire's private text conversations intensify or when she discovers shocking details online.

Hearing-impaired subtitles are included on both discs.


I would have been interested in seeing any behind-the-scenes material on this, but there's absolutely none to be found here. Both discs open with full trailers for Trainwreck and Pitch Perfect 2 as well as shorter "Look for it on DVD and Blu-Ray" spots for Ouija, Furious 7 and The Man With the Iron Fists 2. The DVD's chapter and subtitle menus include a few shots of the actors in character for use as profile pictures and such, some of which aren't seen in the actual movie.

Final Thoughts:

Unfriended will likely have varied effects on viewers- surprisingly it did rather well in theaters (although I'm wondering how many patrons felt ripped-off paying current theater prices to essentially watch a computer screen for 80 minutes) and a sequel is already being planned- I just hope there won't also be a slew of copycat movies using the same format. While I always welcome departures from conventional narratives, the format used here also opens the plot and characters up to my analyzing them more closely, and I couldn't help but scoff at most of the characters and question their decisions- to enjoy a movie like this you just have to be willing to drop most of that. I'll still give everyone involved a decent grade for their efforts, but especially with the lack of extras I can't give this a higher rating than Rent It at least until it shows up in the $5 section. It will certainly be interesting to see how this movie ages in a few years- I personally would have liked to have seen this same movie attempted in the 80s using only text-based online chatting.

Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.

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