If an awful teenager dies in their bedroom, does anyone care? That’s the philosophical quandary Unfriended seeks to answer, and it really depends on how much you appreciate its gimmickry. Ultimately, this e-horror is exactly that – more a neat concept than a success in execution, though there’s plenty of that regardless.
Taking place entirely on the computer screen of one of the film’s protagonists, Unfriended plays out over Skype, iMessage and Facebook as a bunch of adolescent arseholes find themselves taunted by a classmate, Laura Barns, who killed herself after compromising videos of her were posted on YouTube. We see the ostensible protagonist, Blaire (Shelley Hennig), watch the video before Skyping with her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm). They discuss losing their virginity to each other on prom night but are then interrupted by their friends: Jess (Renee Olstead), Ken (Jacob Wysocki) and Adam (Will Peltz).
Attached to the call is a faceless profile they can’t seem to get rid of. Soon, Laura Barns’ Facebook account appears to gain sentience, and secrets are brought to light as Laura, apparently haunting her own social media brand, reveals photos, relationships and the ability to force people into suicide. It all feels a little bit like something Heathers satirised way back in the day. It’s insipid, but there’s an oddly perverse pleasure in the way the horror unfolds.
But as horror, director Levan Gabriadze and writer Kiel Kimsey have more success when playing their cards closer to their chests. The set-up is infinitely more atmospheric and creepy than the eventual result; the slow descent into conventional, Paranormal Activity-esque mania isn’t sufficiently offset by the nifty premise. Laura’s avenging spirit has too much power to be a particularly compelling evil, and the teens’ are barely characters at all. When the obvious reveal comes that they were major players in Laura’s eventual demise, it’s difficult not to shrug and think her classmates are deserving of the terror she’s now inflicting upon them in turn.
This negates pretty much any interesting moral conflict Unfriended might have had. The viewer either ends up thinking they get what they deserve or not caring at all, which is a tone-deaf way to approach a topic as increasingly troublesome as bullying. Horror has such a terrific capacity to explore the psychological – The Babadook being the best recent example – but Unfriended is fairly mindless.
Laurence Barber – follow Laurence on Twitter at @bortlb.