Take a minute to think about how much new technology influences the horror films that follow different innovations. In the past decade, that’s meant an insane number of found-footage films, because we’re more likely than ever to actually record so much of our lives. And while the technology doesn’t always fit nicely with a story’s narrative (think about how many cell phones mysteriously don’t work at an inconvenient moment), it does tend to create another way to have the film’s antagonist reach the protagonists.
While there are plenty of clichés about Unfriended, its approach to technology is surprisingly inventive. Using the way people communicate today through social media and the broader Internet, Unfriended finds a new way to terrorize its victims. From the opening credits, which feature the Universal logo breaking down like it’s a corrupt file or a bad stream, it taps into a very real experience: the view of someone’s laptop monitor. From there, we meet Blaire (Shelley Hennig), who keeps getting distracted by various things on her computer. That monitor is how the viewer sees the rest of the film.
First, Blaire watches some disturbing footage on LiveLeak, showing her friend Laura (Heather Sossaman) committing suicide after embarrassing footage of her was uploaded to YouTube. She’s interrupted by a Skype call from her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm), who wants to take things in a sexier direction. They’re interrupted by a group call from several of their friends, entering through their own laptops. Among the group, though, is a mysterious stranger whose presence is marked by the Skype icon for no photo. This stranger starts to taunt the teens, before quickly escalating into threats and more. Meanwhile, someone using Laura’s Facebook account is sending Blaire a series of disturbing comments.
The film’s use of real services, which also include Spotify, iMessage and ChatRoulette at various points, help create some believability to the scenario. It becomes a little easier to buy the use of various websites and apps when they’re ones most viewers actually use in everyday life. That use of tech extends to the way the film uses the way most people communicate on-screen. We see Blaire type comments and replies, then delete parts and reword her thoughts before sending. The other teens talk over each other, clearly unable to hear or see what others are doing at times. Even the footage of the teens on screen plays with the poor quality of webcam images, where buffering and broken images sometimes come into play.
It’s good that the technology is used so effectively, because the rest of the film’s elements will feel familiar to viewers. There’s no depth to the teenagers here, as you might expect. The teens tend to fall for things they should see coming a mile away, which are more laugh-inducing than frightening. Thankfully, the innovation, plus a twisted sense of humor that comes out at just the right times, keeps the film interesting, at least.