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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Unfriended movie review: the call is coming from inside Facebook!

Unfriended red light

There’s little less compelling than a vague evil spirit with loosely defined powers doing random “scary” things as required by the script.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

A bunch of teens group-chatting online find themselves e-tormented by the evil spirit of a classmate who was bullied into suicide exactly one year earlier. They can’t just log off and shut down because, well, evil spirit is evil, and has supernatural powers and stuff. Unfriended isn’t so much a movie as a monitor mirror for Blaire’s (Shelley Hennig) Mac as she tries to memorialize the Facebook page of dead Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), watches the YouTube video that drove Laura to kill herself, Googles to find out what you should do when the departed try to chat with you online (“Do not answer messages from the dead!”), iMessages her freak-out to her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm), and Skype-confers with their circle of pals about how to get rid of the digital ghost that is bothering them. It’s the next step in found-footage: it’s Screengrab: The Motion Picture. It might be the first movie that would have more impact, not less, if you watched it not projected onto a cinema screen but streaming on a laptop… that is, if it were worth watching at all. It’s a cheap sort of clever that director Leo Gabriadze engages in (and it’s not even all that original; Open Windows did something very similar), one that does not deviate in the least from tedious tropes we’ve seen play out before in countless supernatural-horror flicks. It desperately tries — and fails — to both create a new urban legend about the dead lurking online and then hijack that urban legend for scarifying purposes, but all it succeeds in is a salacious purloining of terrible realities about online bullying and teen suicide for would-be entertainment purposes. Blaire and her friends are nasty, unpleasant kids who think they are “good people,” but I felt nothing for them and didn’t buy one bit — or byte — of their plight. There’s little less compelling than a vague evil spirit with loosely defined powers doing random “scary” things as required by the script. Sitting and staring at someone else’s computer while that happens is, however, one of those things.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Unfriended for its representation of girls and women.

red light 1 star

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Unfriended (2015)
US/Can release: Apr 17 2015
UK/Ire release: May 01 2015

MPAA: rated R for violent content, pervasive language, some sexuality, and drug and alcohol use - all involving teens
BBFC: rated 15 (very strong language, strong violence, threat, sex, suicide theme)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    I wonder whether this will end up appealing more to the ageing network-TV crowd that’s making CSI: Cyber a success: same core message, the Internet is a scary place and will kill you/your children.

  • Matt Clayton

    It’s sad that a movie set in a very un-cinematic format (several kids chatting with each other online) makes it into multiplexes. It’s a lazy form of storytelling to say the least. I tried watching this, and I couldn’t get through 10 minutes of it.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing found footage movies going the way of the dodo bird…

  • Danielm80

    This film might be scarier if you watch it at home on your computer.

  • Kellyfergison

    have you seen The Uppel Footage? It came before Open Windows and reigns supreme. http://releasetheupperfootage.com/

  • Anton Bitel

    THE COLLINGSWOOD STORY (2002) came before all of these.

  • This is strictly for the easy-to-please teen-horror crowd.

  • Haven’t seen it.

  • Constable

    You know what would be scary? A horror film with actual character that we care about.

  • a

    I wanted the kid in that movie to die. At least the (SPOILER) annoying characters in this film were killed.

  • You wanted a traumatized child to *die*? Really?

  • Tonio Kruger

    That core message has been around almost as long as the Internet. Indeed, I suspect at times that it has even helped the image of the Internet as much as the more Panglossian P.R. it normally gets by increasing its popularity with the type of people who would normally not dare touch a computer.

    Then again the recent hacking incident involving Sony has probably done more to revive fears in this area than any lame horror movie or TV show is likely to do.

  • David

    There’s essentially two ways to do a film like this. The easier way is to make the audience sympathize with the avenging spirit, either by making them the main character a la the Crow, or by having a main character who was sympathetic to the original victim and seeing current events through his/her eyes. The second and more difficult way is to make characters who have done something horrible, like driving someone to suicide, sympathetic. This is storytelling 101.

  • But no one is sympathetic here.

  • The kid WAS incredibly annoying, but not worthy of death. That movie was ok, but not what I was hoping for based on the positive reviews.

  • CB

    Serial Experiments Lain did the girl-who-commits-suicide-haunts-her-friends-online thing back in 1998.

    /hipster shades
    /punches hipster shades off own stupid face

    But seriously it did, and that was only the beginning for that show. So yeah, color me unimpressed.

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