Thursday, July 28, 2016

Now on HBO: Unfriended (2015)

Unfriended (2015) - Directed by Levan Gabriadze; Written by Nelson Greaves; Starring Shelley Hennig, Heather Sossaman, Matthew Bohrer, Courtney Halverson, Moses Storm, Will Peltz.

By Kenny Howell

An entire movie that takes place on the Apple desktop of a teenage girl wasn't the best sell to me.

But credit to Levan Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves, Unfriended takes that gimmick concept and uses it perfectly in this terrific little horror film.

The story is about a group of friends that hop on to their internets talking boxes to chat one evening when they start receiving weird messages from a friend who killed herself awhile back. The girl, named Laura, had an embarrassing video posted of her from a party. After merciless teasing, she turned a gun on herself in another video that was captured, and we see at the beginning of the film.

They first think it is someone hacking their computers, but it quickly becomes evident that this is either someone avenging Laura's death or actually Laura herself from beyond the grave.

The key to making this film work is not the gimmick, but how you use that gimmick. That is something that has gotten lost on the found footage films that have flooded the theaters ever since The Blair Witch Project. Gabriadze has severely limited himself by us only seeing the desktop of the main character, Blair (Shelley Hennig). But he cleverly uses it, using the technology cutting out, like the Skype feed, to build tension about what we are about to see. There is no musical score, which is often used heavily in horror films, so Gabriadze leans on silence, using something as simple as mouse clicks and other computer functions to build tension.

There is also the added layer about what the film says as bullying. I think it could be a bit heavy handed to say that all bullies should die which is the aim of the killer in the film, but you do see how what you say and do, especially as a teenager, massively affects others' lives. It also touches on the addiction to technology, and how that technology traps and controls our lives.

I don't know why the film wasn't marketed differently. Something like It Follows, which admittedly is a better film, was marketed as an indie sleeper and one of the more inventive horror films of recent history. This seemed to get more of the another teen horror film treatment, and it is a lot more clever than that. Gabriadze did box himself in with the concept, but how he works inside that box is quite impressive.

Unfriended is now playing on HBO.

Rating: ***1/2

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