“Unfriended” Movie Review

     What happens when an original concept completely overshadows the narrative structure of a film?  You get “Unfriended”, an over the top horror thriller looking, perhaps, to teach a lesson or two on the boundaries of social media usage in today’s keyboard warrior society.  Director Levan Gabriadze has staged every frame of his film within the confines of the main character’s computer desktop, relying solely on the use of Skype and other popular chat apps in order to provide actual scenery.  These scenes themselves are limited to the respective bedrooms of the six main characters, who seem to occupy their time regularly talking to one another about very little that matters.  The film’s trailer didn’t really indicate we would watching a computer screen for 82 consecutive minutes, but once the film starts there and never leaves, one gets the feeling of being held hostage within a conversation you would just assume end as soon as possible.

     Screenwriter Nelson Greaves uses the “I Know What You Did Last Summer” formula to concoct a more modern story that has our six bumble heads chatting it up on the one year anniversary of one of their friend’s suicide.  Never before I have I felt so trapped in a movie theater when this band of whiney, entitled brats begin to converse about everything from relationships, drugs, alcohol, sex, parties and a plethora of other happenings that their parents are unaware of. It’s particularly cringeworthy when a couple of these children call each other “ghetto”, as if any of them have the first clue what that means. Blaire (Shelley Hennig) begins the conversation with her current boyfriend, Mitch (Moses Storm), and soon several others join into their video chat, including Val (Courtney Halverson), Jes (Renee Olstead),  and Adam (Will Peltz).  They’re all a good looking bunch.  Probably amongst the most popular in their high school.  Which causes a bit of head scratch that the sixth member of this regular online chat is Ken (Jacob Wysocki), an overweight techno geek who goes with the rest like oil and water. The popular group in high school normally won’t carry so much dead weight, much less be seen with them.  Maybe he has a good week hook up.  Yah, that’s it.

     It doesn’t take long for the group to notice someone else has also joined the chat and is now talking to them using the account of the girl, Laura (Heather Sossaman), who committed suicide.  As we soon learn, the reason behind the suicide was a YouTube video posted by someone that shows Laura passed out on the ground after a party and the ghastly site of her having defecated all over herself.  You can bet the farm the reason we’re all here has something to do with the fact someone in this group not only shot the video, but posted it as well.  Horror films always need some kind of gimmick that will allow the audience to ignore some of the more obvious plot holes.  In “Unfriended”, those include questions as to why the ghost of Laura would wait an entire year to get revenge.  You’d think she would’ve wanted to strike when her death was still fresh in everyone’s mind. Maybe she first viewed “Scream” and learned a little about those unwritten horror film rules.  And why does she choose to invade their chat?  Doesn’t the powers of being a ghost allow you to haunt someone in much scarier settings? And does she use a ghost computer in some far off “Interstellar” like fourth dimension to type on?  Perhaps the filmmakers wrote these characters purposely annoying so as to deflect these kinds of questions.  At about the half way point, Laura tells the group if any of them hang up, they will all die, to which I was thinking “Please Hang Up!”.

     Eventually, and in true horror genre form, the members of this loathsome group of losers begin to die off one by one.  Because of the nature of the film’s visual presentation, we see what happens to them by way of the chat window on Blaire’s computer, which can be a conveniently fuzzy proposition since it appears her internet connection isn’t exactly the best.  The video feed constantly skips frames of audio and video and she frequently gets that spinning wheel of death which seems comical in a film like this.  It’s never really explained why each of these kids offs themselves in some of the most gruesome ways possible, other than Blaire conveniently finding an article via Google which tells the story of people who have committed suicide after communicating with the dead.  I suppose that’s all we need for justification, not that I really needed any.

     There have been several notable films which have explored this unforgiving social media world our kids are navigating through on a minute by minute basis.  One that caught my eye a couple years ago, “Disconnect”, explored the emotional scarring that cyber-bullying can cause and the terrible consequences for all involved when those scars lead to tragedy.  To a certain extent, “Unfriended” tries to follow along those same lines by taking that premise and filtering it through standard horror tropes.  The resulting film is something that is more of a sideshow.  The kind of movie that you might glimpse at if it was on television while you’re doing something more fruitful like spending time with your kids and family.  That thought begs the ultimate question when you view a film like this.  Where are the parents while all of this is going on?  GRADE: D-