The 400-Word Review: Unfriended
By Sean Collier
April 20, 2015
The concept of an entire film unfolding on a computer screen is not without merit. The amount of time we spend staring at these screens is reason enough to experiment; how can this ubiquitous visual format (the one you’re looking at right now, by the way) be narratively employed?
Nor is the idea of bringing horror into the virtual realm inherently flawed. Technology is a source of fear for many, as is the concept of the neverending network (whether rendered as an internet connection or as a global conspiracy).
Unfortunately, these concepts were not brought to bear on a good movie. They were squandered on Unfriended, an unbearable pinwheel icon of a film short on ideas and long on stalling.
A year prior to the firing up of this laptop — and yes, there is no camera, only an Apple computer display — teenager Laura Barns committed suicide after a particularly vicious round of cyberbullying. Now, her former friends are getting messages (and, soon enough, threats) from someone with access to Laura’s various accounts. Is it a nefarious prank, or is it Laura taking advantage of the free Wifi at a Hadean Starbucks?
A few sequences — totaling no more than five or six minutes — make use of the webcams and chat windows to create suspense. Most of Unfriended, though, is simply tedious; half or more of the movie’s runtime is spent waiting for a reply, waiting for a screen to load, waiting for the characters to try refreshing the Skype feed or reporting a Facebook violation. (Seriously.) Unfriended might’ve had punch as a 15-minute short; as a feature, director Levan Gabriadze and screenwriter Nelson Greaves (on his first feature, naturally) are in way over their heads.
The only thing actually distressing about the film is how callously it employs very serious subject matter. Our e-ghost villain was the victim of truly depraved cyberbullying, and the problem of teen suicide — both the inciting incident and the go-to action in Unfriended — is not one to squander on a trifle like this. Unfriended tangles with the darkest, most troubling corners of internet culture, and it does so for cheap scares, laughs and titillation. Perhaps they’re right to demonize cyberbullying (and to be clear, the film doesn’t defend it). But by the last reel, Unfriended feels like little more than a quick attempt to cash in on a horrible problem.
My Rating: 2/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark