The multiple-screen digital presentation of the latest ‘reality’ horror, ‘Unfriended’, may be disorienting, but that adds to is building tension, says Rory Carrick
The ‘found/reality footage’-led movies such as Paranormal Activity that have dominated the thriller/horror market so successfully over the last number of years have been stepped up a notch further with the introduction of Unfriended. The public at large have an intrinsic hunger for voyeurism and the explosion of social media platforms has fed that appetite. Unfriending someone on Facebook is seen as the ultimate insult in the digital age.
Unfriended hearlds a new dawn in movie making. Directed by Leo Gabriadze and produced by Timur Bekmambotov and Jason Blum (Blum is the CEO of Blumhouse Productions which has brought us Paranormal Activity, The Purge and Insidious), the innovative method in which the movie is shot – i.e. presented entirely via computer screens – is quite revolutionary and I would imagine it will be of great appeal to a younger digitally-driven market.
The story opens with a flashback to a cyberbullying case where Laura Barns takes her own life. We’re then introduced to a cast of characters who knew her, chatting amongst themselves online via Skype. An unkown party known as ‘billie227’ has joined their chat and they can’t seem to get rid of their new friend. But who is ‘billie227’ and what does he/she want with them?
The cast, many of which may be unknown to a larger audience outside teen dramas and daytime TV, is excellent, including Shelley Henning from Days of our Lives, Ouija and The Secret Circle, Renee Olstead from The Secret Life of an American Teenager, and Jacob Wysocki from Fat Kid Rules the World and Pitch Perfect. The production allowed them the freedom of improvisation, which comes across as clever and realistic. The disintegration of their initial, popular teen personas, into hysterical terrified kids is very well played out on screen, or should I say, on many screens.
It can sometimes feel disorientating to watch, but this actually heightens the tension and adds to the sense of confusion the characters are living through. In a way it draws the audience into the experience. The opening titles have also been cleverly distorted, which sets the audience up for what is yet to unfold.
Despite the movie holding a 16 rating I suspect it would be a large hit with the 12-16 demographic. The focus on social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube make it relevant and topical. While an older audience may not buy into the concept and find the way Unfriended is shot annoying at times, it will give people food for thought. Parents watching it will find it unsettling and the cyberbullying aspect will no doubt hit close to home for many.
This is thought-provoking fare, for sure, and it’s bound to be a talking point among many. Whether that’s good or bad remains to be seen. I’m giving it a three out of five for pushing the boundaries of filmmaking along with some great improvisation. Check out the trailer below.
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