WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOR “UNFRIENDED” BELOW
Not since the slasher established rules regarding high school promiscuity has a horror movie carried such a heavy-handed moral message. Blending elements of “Paranormal Activity,” “Friday the 13th,” and “The Blair Witch Project,” “Unfriended” effectively portrays a group of teens punished for their lackadaisical attitude towards social media and cyberbullying.
One year after an embarrassing YouTube video — and subsequent online ridicule — caused high school student Laura Barnes to commit suicide, her classmates find themselves on an average Monday night Skype chat. Everything proceeds as normal; they discuss normal teenage issues, parties, upcoming concerts, and their various opinions on Laura — until Laura’s social media accounts start messaging them.
Initially writing it off as a glitch, the messages become more and more sinister, and it becomes clear that whoever — or whatever — controls the accounts means to hurt these teens.
The film deserves credit; in its tight 82 minute run time, it manages to stay fraught with tension and even dish out some legitimate scares. Taking place all on protagonist Blaire’s Macbook screen, a certain authenticity permeates “Unfriended.” The teens use real, familiar internet applications in a way that the millennial audience will no doubt recognize. Use of real-time first person perspective allows the filmmakers to provide clever exposition by showing the messages Blaire sends — as well as doesn’t send — the others.
Also, despite using several familiar character tropes — the jock, the stoner, the promiscuous blonde — the actors all give convincing performances. While certainly impetuous, the characters come across as resourceful and make earnest efforts to cooperate with each other and fight back — until things start to get personal.
More noteworthy than the effective supernatural horror of “Unfriended” is the real world moral of the story. The film addresses how our personal social media image — whether created by ourselves or others — can attract the scorn of the anonymous online masses. An interesting paradox occurs throughout the film, in which the characters feel comfortable hiding online, but when they need help, they themselves become victimized by the cold indifference of the online community.
Taking inspiration from the innumerable true stories of teenage suicide caused by cyberbullying, “Unfriended” could have easily come across as exploitative of the issue. The film, however, manages to do an impressive job of making the viewer actually think about the detrimental effect online anonymity can have.
Our proudest — and most embarrassing — moments can go viral, living on online forever. None of the teens can claim complete responsibility for Laura Barnes’ suicide, but they all have some degree of culpability in the matter. Whether one films an embarrassing video, posts it, or leaves a mean comment, it all contributes to the inevitable outcome. “Unfriended” is a film created for a niche audience; millennials unsure of how to conduct themselves online could benefit from watching it, then thinking about it.
What did you think of “Unfriended”? Was it cheap exploitation or did it provide real insight on a serious issue? Comment below or tweet @connerws