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Unfriended [SXSW 2015]
Universal // R // April 17, 2015
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
Bullying is a serious topic that affects everybody on the globe. While technology has resulted in loads of positive advances in the world, it has also been used for cruelty. Cyber bullying in particular has largely been in the discussion, as it has become so easy to tease and harass others when hiding behind a computer screen and a keyboard. Director Levan Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves have incorporated that idea into a horror film that handles an important message, although it never quite feels entirely realized.
A group of best friends join a group chat via Skype, but they soon become victim to the games of what they believe to be a demented hacker. They ultimately discover that a supernatural force seeks revenge using their dead friend's Facebook and Skype accounts.
Do you remember that irritating group of kids back in high school? Well, that's pretty much the array of characters in Unfriended. The cookie-cutter roles are all here, but Greaves' screenplay deserves positive marks for making the dialogue sound real. Even if it can get a bit annoying, all of the conversations are entirely convincing. Greaves incorporated a good deal of intentional humor when it comes to the way that they interact with one another over the course of the Skype calls. It's hit-and-miss, but there are some genuinely well-placed laughs when it comes to the way that the teenagers type to one another, as protagonist Blaire (Shelley Hennig) types what she means, and quickly deletes it with a more gentle way of saying it.
Unfriended is strikingly similar to the recently released Open Windows, as a hunter of sorts terrorizes seemingly innocent people, who have a darker side to them than at first glance. In this case, the game is "Never Have I Ever," which you may know as a drinking game. The supernatural entity utilizes this as an opportunity to expose all of the skeletons in the teenagers' closets. The game continues to escalate, as secrets come to the surface, which proves to be entertaining for a short time, but it gets stale. This is one game that simply lasts for far too long. They progressively turn on one another, erupting into a fight that feels both repetitive and disappointing. It simply turns into a bunch of teenagers trying to scream over one another. By the time that the film comes to a conclusion, we're left with a predictable end point where we don't care about the fate of a single character.
To put it simply, this is horror that outstays its welcome. It's consistently entertaining, but it feels like its one gimmick of being entirely shot via screen capture is where the creativity ends. The film relies on it so heavily, that it forgets to make something out of its plot. With the undeniable potential to have some creep factor, Unfriended misses out on a major opportunity to take full advantage of the supernatural elements. The picture relies on cheap jump scares that won't have you moving a muscle. It should have pushed the envelope further when it comes to the experimental nature of the way that the film is captured. There was an opportunity to truly make something unique here, and the filmmakers have missed the mark.
Given that the entire duration of the feature takes place through a screen capture, director Levan Gabriadze has handled the overall look of the film rather well. A couple of the characters occasionally carry their computers around, yet it never feels shaky. The majority of the film remains rather stable. When it comes to the song selections, the film's use of Spotfiy is rather smart. With the exception of the Paranormal Activity-esque rumbles, there is no score. This proves to be massively effective. We've all seen films shot with Skype, but when the silver screen turns into a full-blown computer screen, it surprisingly makes for a visually intriguing spectacle. Unfriended proves that this is a film style worth exploring for directors who are willing to try new things with it.
Before the feature started, executive producer Jason Blum mentioned that the film's story and visuals are still undergoing changes. While some edits could make the film run a bit smoother, they won't be able to fix many of the film's problems. The dialogue may be incredibly convincing coming from the mouths of a group of teenagers, but the feature's anti-cyber bullying message doesn't feel fulfilled. There are some unique visual gags, but the film lacks some much needed thrills and chills. Unfriended has good ideas, but it doesn't apply them accordingly. Rent it.
Unfriended will play SXSW Film Festival 2015 on March 13th, March 14th, and March 20th.