Review 52: Unfriended (1/5)

Unfriended

Directed by Levan Gabriadze

Starring Shelley Hennig, Moses Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson, Heather Sossaman

Released on April 17, 2015

Running time 1h 23m

Rated R

Genre: Horror

Skype accounts, Apple laptops, webcams, microphones, teen stereotypes, serious suspension of disbelief, and ungodly amounts of padding at the ready! Here we go!

Okay, good idea. A Skype conversation between six friends goes horribly wrong when an unidentified supernatural force hacks into the conversation, terrorizes them, and pushes their friendships to the limit.

But, unfortunately, we get a lackluster, somewhat boring, incredibly predictable, and ultimately forgettable little movie that drags beyond belief and fails to make good on my admittedly ungodly high expectations. I had very high hopes for this film, and at the end of the day I found myself dissatisfied and annoyed. Go watch the trailers! The trailers look great!

The overall backstory, revealed to us over the first roughly fifteen minutes, is as follows: a video was posted onto YouTube, detailing a very drunk Laura Barns (Sossaman, who is 28) doing…something, before the video cuts to an unconscious Laura lying prone on the ground, having soiled herself. And the video ends with a pitifully edited text telling “Leaky Laura” to kill herself. Laura’s incredible obnoxiousness does not equal convincingly drunk or good acting in the slightest. Strangely enough, this video only has about seventy-five thousand views. Another Amanda-Todd-esque video made by Laura pre-suicide hasn’t even broken fifteen hundred. Wait, how is the “Laura Barns Kill Urself” video even on Youtube to begin with? One of Youtube’s strictest guidelines is that videos cannot contain harassment or cyberbullying. How the video is actually still on Youtube is beyond me. The video is legit, by the way. You can check it out if you wish. It actually got taken down off of Youtube before it hit five hundred views because they thought that it was a legit video telling a chick to kill herself, not a promo for the movie. Youtube reinstated the video after being told that it was a promo for Unfriended.

And in another video which our main chick Blaire (Hennig, who is 28 and is attempting to portray someone ten years younger than her) can find online inexplicably, Laura actually gets a gun onto school property (in Hollywood? That’s a laugh) and shoots herself…while holding her gun at arm’s length. Huh.

The film actually begins with a hilarious distortion of the Universal logo, as if being screwed with by poor Internet connection. You will either find this hilarious or horrifically infuriating, as I’m sure most of us hate poor Internet connection.

The footage begins on a Monday night for some reason, with Blaire watching both of the Laura videos, and getting a Skype call from her boyfriend Mitch (Storm, who is 28). They flirt, saying that they plan to copulate to their hearts’ content on prom night. They are about to have cybersex when they are interrupted by three of their friends: Adam (Peltz, who is 29), Jess (Olstead, who is 26), and Ken (Wysocki, who is 25), who laugh at Blaire and Mitch’s failed attempt at cybersex.

KEN: Someone’s in their chonies!

This was slightly funny.

But, through the night, we learn to dislike all five (soon to be six) of our characters. Blaire and Mitch are horny, Adam’s the jock jerk, Jess is an ditzy airhead, and Ken is the fat guy who intentionally makes himself the butt of jokes.

And all potential for a well-executed “Slow Build” is wasted when right from the getgo of the trio’s introduction, there is another unidentified Skyper in the call with them, and nobody knows who the stranger is. Oooooh. Note: we’re only seven minutes in, and the haunting has already started. We still have over an hour with these typical high school students. As of the beginning of June of 2015, I am done with high school. I don’t want to have to deal with these types of people.

By the way, the objects each kid holds up actually foreshadow their deaths. Mitch is holding up a large carving knife, Jess holds up a hair straightener, Ken holds up a blender, Val is in her laundry room with a bottle of bleach in the background, and Adam will later hold up a gun. Seriously. They made it very clear from the trailers that, for example, Ken would shred his hand and his throat in his blender.

Oh, did I just spoil each of the characters’ deaths? Oops. Screw it, I don’t care. These characters are so unlikable that I want them to die.

Anyway, they try to boot the stranger out of the conversation, and go as far as to hang up on each other and reconnect, but gasp! The stranger is still there! The haunting is confirmed, ten minutes in, no less, when Laura Barns Facebook-messages Blaire. Blaire answers, asking who it is as Laura is dead, and asking why this person would do something like that. She deletes watching the Youtube video from her Google Chrome history, but neglects to do the same with her Youtube history. Mitch, on the Skype private messaging thing, sends Blaire a link to a website forum called unexplainedforums.net (it’s not on the real internet. Look it up.) that essentially says that if the dead contact you, and you answer, you will die. Great. I already know that all of these teens are going to die. Mitch tells Blaire to unfriend Laura, but, oddly, she cannot do so. By the way, Blaire’s Facebook relationship with Laura says that they’ve been friends since February. How would it be possible to add a dead person as your Facebook friend?

Another friend is brought into the conversation: Val (Halverson, who is 26). She’s the bimbo who nobody likes.

Blaire tries to memorialize Laura’s Facebook account, but something won’t let her. Oooooh.

It was about this time that I noticed that one of the tabs open on Blaire’s Internet showed MTV’s Teen Wolf, which featured the same actress who played Blaire. That’s an Easter egg if ever I saw one.

There is one major flaw with the overall video feed: its framerate. It’s annoying enough when nothing’s actually happening, but when crap goes down, the framerate drops to about two frames per second or less. It gets infuriating after just a few of these sequences. Also, the movie is set on Blaire’s computer, so her webcam should never have framerate issues on her own screen. But throughout the film, this happens.

There are also several sequences throughout the movie in which Blaire gets onto another program and somehow it mutes the audio from Skype. I get that movies tend to use silence as a means to set the audience up for a jumpscare. But this is ridiculous, because you’re sacrificing realism to achieve the effect. It’s incredibly distracting. And then there are sequences in which having another program up doesn’t mute the Skype conversation. This just make the movie look inconsistent and stupid. Oh, and in some of the muted sequences, there isn’t actually any dialogue. Everyone just stares into their cameras.

And then a bunch of pictures of Val drunk and stoned at the same party as Laura show up on Jess’s Facebook. Val and Jess fight, and Jess swears that she didn’t post the pictures. Jess deletes them, but they show back up on Adam’s wall. Val and Adam fight, and Adam swears that he didn’t post the pictures. Val flubbs a line. And then Blaire brings up that it’s the anniversary of Laura’s suicide. Oooooh. The stranger then warns the teens that if they hang up, they will die, and then turns off the lights in all of their rooms, letting them know that it’s not a joke. Adam and Val threaten the stranger, and Val calls 911, telling them that she’s being threatened online, and signs off of Skype.

During this last sequence, when Adam was threatening the stranger, he pulled out his dad’s gun. Blaire yelled at him to put it away, telling him that it might go off. Does Blaire not know how guns work? If the gun is already loaded and cocked, you still have to take the safety off and pull the trigger for the gun to actually fire. Also, Adam was not executing proper gun safety procedures. The NRA exists for a reason. Take a gun safety class, for gosh sakes.

After the stranger shows the remaining teens the video of Laura drunk and soiled, as well as a series of comments that they all made telling Laura to kill herself, Blaire Facebook-messages Laura, telling her that they all only did it because everyone else did. Way to cave in to peer pressure. Blaire then looks at the profile of the stranger and sees that it’s Laura’s account. Oooooh. Why did she wait until now to do that? The stranger starts a minute-long countdown, threatening to kill someone. Ken has everyone download some Trojan remover software in an attempt to remove the stranger from the conversation. Okay, I may not be very good with a computer, but I’m pretty sure that Trojan removers only work with computer viruses, not Skype issues. And even then, the only viruses that this Trojan remover will remove will be Trojans (look it up if you don’t know what type of virus this is.). They all finish downloading the software. Ken tells them to put the objects detected into Recycle Bin and then empty it. Blaire skips waiting for the scan to finish and just goes straight to emptying Recycle Bin for some reason. The emptying cannot be completed because a Torrented episode of Saturday Night Live is still in use. Yet Blaire apparently cannot read, as the program is clearly open and in plain view. Things inexplicably work out just as the countdown expires. The teens disconnect and reconnect, and the stranger is gone. The teens laugh about their experience, but gasp! The stranger emails Blaire an Instagram link,  Ken tells Blaire that he can trace the IP address somehow, and Blaire sends a screenshot to Ken because there is no Forward option. You sly scamp, you removed the Forward button! She then screenshares it with everyone. By the way, the email was clearly sent from two months earlier. The Instagram link in the email shows a screenshot of an email from Laura to Val, where Val told Laura to kill herself, even though that type of picture is easily photoshopped. The picture has been posted to Val’s Instagram, and it is already filled with comments telling Val that she is a horrible person and that she killed Laura. Ken then calls Laura a b!tch, saying that she deserved what she got. Blaire then private messages Mitch, complaining about Ken. I think the movie forgot that she was screensharing. It only took a minute and ten seconds.

Ha. Typical humans. Everyone now loves Laura after she committed suicide, even though they all told Laura to kill herself a year prior.

During this past sequence, Ken gives the reason for the software download as the stranger being just an Internet troll. Blaire then asks what an Internet troll is. I immediately thought, You’re a high school student in 2015. How in heaven’s name do you not know what an Internet troll is?

The stranger Facebook messages Blaire, saying that if she hangs up, all of her friends will die. Not knowing the correct shortcut “Command+C” for her Mac, she copies the message, only for the dialog box to act like her main search engine is Yahoo even though it’s clearly been Google. She starts to send the message to Mitch, but decides against it. It seems that she’s forgotten that she’s still screensharing.

Val reappears on Skype, sitting silently and motionless in her house’s laundry room. Her computer all of a sudden falls over. Blaire and co. remember that Val used to suffer from seizures, and Blaire looks up “val seizures” on GoogleWhy the heck would she do that? We see the police arrive and say “10-56”, which, for those who don’t know, means suicide. The open bottle of bleach next to Val should give that away. Oh, and when Blaire opens up her browser to look up police radio codes, the link she clicks is purple, while the rest are blue, meaning she’s already been to that site, and has little to no reason to have done that before.

The stranger reappears on Skype, and sends the group two pictures of Blaire cheating on Mitch with Adam. The stranger now has a video feed rather than a Skype icon. The feed is revealed to be in Ken’s room. Ken finds where the feed is coming from, and his feed bursts into static and cutting off every so often so Ken could move stuff around, only letting up to show him shredding his hand in his blender, breaking the blender, and using the blades to slash open his throat. Odd – the blades seemed to be cutting into something that Ken was holding, rather than Ken’s hand. Cheap effects much?

The stranger asks about the video. Blaire Facebook messages Laura claiming innocence. The stranger calls her out on her bull. Laura goes back to unexplainedforums.net and learns that to stop the supernatural vengeance, she must confess her sins.

The stranger forces the remaining teenagers to play Never Have I Ever with five fingers held up, saying that every time they lose, they put down a finger, and that the first person to put down all fingers will die. Apparently, Blaire needs to be told how to play. Throughout the scene, we learn that Jess started a rumor about Blaire having an eating disorder. Blaire crashed Jess’s mother’s car. Mitch made out with Laura. Mitch turned Adam in to the cops for pot. Jess stole eight hundred bucks from Adam. Adam offered to trade Jess’s life for his own. Blaire had sex with Adam, despite her claims to Mitch of her unspoiled virginity. This in particular causes Mitch to go ballistic. “It was an accident! I didn’t mean to do it!”Blaire says. Of course it was an accident! His penis just accidentally slipped in! Strangely, Blaire’s Spotify starts playing the song “How You Lie, Lie, Lie”. And I started singing along. By the way, Adam puts one of his fingers back up. Cheating jerk.

Adam “roofied” Ashley Dane and forced her to get an abortion.

Typical humans. This scene has officially rendered every one of these characters unlikeable.

Adam and Blaire’s computers’ printers (which lack the same distortion effect that everyone’s camera has) print something off that Adam and Blaire refuse to reveal. A video shows up on all of their screens showing Adam and Blaire having sex, Mitch threatens to hang up, the stranger threatens to kill him, and out of desperation, Blaire shows her paper to everyone else. It reads: “If you reveal this note, Adam will die.” Adam promptly shoots himself in the face, and his paper is seen: “If you reveal this note, Blaire will die.”

Jess is hinted to be next, as it is implied that she defaced Laura’s grave, and she hides in the bathroom. A popup ad comes up selling webcam software, advertising girls undressing, and one of the girls is a still of Blaire about to have cybersex with Mitch. Blaire goes on Chatroulette for some freaking reason to get help for Jess, where obviously nobody takes her seriously, until she gets one chick to call the police. Blaire goes back to Skype to see Jess with her hair straightening iron down her throat, and her hand in the filled bathtub, choking to death while getting electrocuted. A meme is posted on Jess’s Facebook wall: a picture of her with her straightening iron down her throat, with these words on it: “Looks like Jess finally STFU”.

The stranger has one last question for Blaire and Mitch: “Who posted the video?” The stranger starts another countdown, and despite pleading with the stranger not to kill anyone, Blaire finally fesses up that Mitch posted the video. Mitch places a big butcher knife point up on the table, and slams his face into it, stabbing the knife all the way through to the back of his head. Bullhonky. The song “I Hurt Too” sarcastically plays on Blaire’s Spotify.

Despite Blaire’s claims of friendship with Laura, another version of Laura drunk and soiled video is posted on Blaire’s Facebook wall. This time, the video is extended, and Blaire is revealed to be the cameraman. Almost immediately, the video is bombarded with hate-filled comments telling Blaire that she’s a monster, that she killed Laura, and that she should kill herself. Blaire can only stare in shock as she is given the same hypocritical amount of hate that Laura received. Instead of letting Blaire live with the consequences, this happens. Her bedroom door creaks open. Two silhouetted hands forcibly slam the laptop shut, revealing the film to be entirely from Blaire’s point of view, though the physics of that don’t make sense, as Blaire’s face on the video feed does not move upward as the laptop shuts. Is the camera on Laura’s stomach? And then the demonic-looking, vengeful ghost of Laura lunges at Blaire, abruptly ending the film with probably one of the most obvious jumpscares I’ve seen to date. Snore. Even the physics make no sense. Her webcam’s supposed to be on the top of her laptop. If her screen is moving down, why is the image of her not moving down?

But yes. The final jumpscare at the very end.

Unfriended could have been great. It tries to utilize typically worn clichés to create a technological and supernatural twist on the slasher genre. It’s a somewhat innovative idea that at least tries to speak to today’s generation of technology-addicted highschoolers.

Unfortunately, the characters’ actions were unrealistic, it wasn’t even close to scary, and it was a really slowly paced movie, even though it was only a little over eighty minutes.

Unfortunately, by the time I got into the final buildup before the end, I came to a realization: the “supernatural” elements of this movie are purely and simply an excuse for everything that happens in the movie. It’s a lazy, putrid attempt to cover up for the plothole of “Why don’t they just log off?” It seriously detracts from anything scary. Not that it was scary to begin with.

Another damning error was that the movie in and of itself felt like a dastardly attempt to capitalize on the anti-cyberbullying craze.

Ultimately, the entire movie felt like I was watching someone else surf the Net. It simply wasn’t scary until, of course, the very end. But, ultimately, the scariest part of it was its portrayal of teen amorality. Unfriended was clearly written for today’s generation, but, unfortunately, it wasn’t written by today’s generation, which resulted in the over-stereotyping of each character and the unrealistic (according to me) portrayal of cyberbullying. Just because a chick gets drunk and soils herself at a party, do you really think that nearly all of her fellow students would tell her to kill herself? The only time I was told to kill myself online was when someone demanded that I kill myself purely because I believe in God. Upon seeing this, I decided to turn the other cheek.

And while I said that Unfriended had a good idea, it ultimately is only a good idea because it is a flat-out product of the times, rather than timeless. While it may be relevant today, it certainly would not have been relevant twenty years ago, and it will certainly not be relevant twenty years from now.

I will bring up my review of It Follows. It Follows had a well-known idea that can be applied to today as well as the second half of the twentieth century. It took the well-known horror trope “sex = death” and updated it for the twenty-first century. This idea has been relevant for a long time in cinema. It was practically exploited in the eighties in the slasher genre. And this idea will be relevant in horror cinema for years to come.

But apart from the product-of-the-times idea, is Unfriended any good? The acting is about as good as it could have been, considering that most of the movie involves teenagers being terrorized. Unfortunately, the non-terrified lines are very flat and dull. The dialogue matches today, and is, like the overall idea, a product of the times. To today’s iPhone generation that is connected to social media constantly, this movie is probably terrifying. But I, unlike most of said generation, rarely use social media. Heck, I’m only on Facebook. But to me, and to pretty much anyone but my generation, this movie will be more of a bore than scary. And the overall product could have been so much better.

Contrary to popular belief, the movie was not shot in one continuous take. Instead of doing a series of continuous takes, the director had the actors run through the movie from start to finish several times, and edited in the best sections of each take. Of course, there’s the obvious loophole that everyone literally has the script right in front of their faces. It’s practically set up so that the editors could easily get the best sections of each take. Every time something opens up in front of the Skype conversation or a webcam glitches or lags, you can sneak in a new take. That would explain why the glitches and lag are there in abundance. Of course, sometimes the angles are slightly different for each take. For example, in one scene in which Blaire is typing, the video feed cuts to Mitch, and then back to Blaire, showing that she’s across the room, somehow having moved while typing nonstop. Wow. It’s the equivalent of putting training wheels on a child’s bike. It’s a waste of a great concept.

And if this is the best framerate Skype has to offer, they will have to pay me to make an account and be an active user. I actually had a Skype account for about a month, but it was ultimately more of a hassle than a helpmeet.

Pity.

Final verdict: 1 out of 5 stars.

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