Friday, October 23, 2015

Shocktober Review: Unfriended

 So let's get this out of the way at the outset: yes, Unfriended looks like a terrible movie. A social media-only "found footage" horror film about a ghost that haunts people through their computers. That's it. That's the entire movie. I'm not going to pretend that it's anything other than a bad idea, with obnoxious teenagers yelling at each other, cursing, and (thankfully) being killed off one by one. When I saw the trailer for the first time - in front of It Follows, which has to be one of the worst ideas a studio programmer could think of - my friend leaned over and said "you have one new movie for next year's Bad Movie Night". I can't pretend that Unfriended is in any way a horror movie that's worth your time. And yet, it wasn't as unwatchable as I expected. It's not good, but it was kind of fun, and a little better put together than I'd expected.

 I'm going to tell you right now that I didn't care enough about the characters to remember their names. They're all horrible human beings, broken roughly into the stereotypes of The Girlfriend (Shelley Hennig), The Boyfriend (Moses Storm), The Drug Dealer (Will Peltz), The Slut (Renee Olstead), and The Fat Kid Who Is Inexplicably Making Salsa in His Bedroom (Jacob Wysocki). I think there's also The Girl Who Gets Pulled into the Chat That No One Likes (Courtney Halverson), so someone can die before the other idiots we don't like. They're all having a Skype Chat, along with a mysterious person who is a (SPOILER) g-g-g-ghost! Specifically the ghost of Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), who killed herself after a video of her drunk and passed out and maybe soiled herself or having her period was leaked online. I wonder if one of these assholes did it?

 Tell you what, SPOILERS from here on out. Unfriended is not the kind of movie I feel deserves to maintain a mystery. Of course they were complicit and of course that's why her ghost is cyber-haunting them. There's even a website that Boyfriend sends the main character about how you don't want to be haunted online. Laura forces all of them to kill themselves in thankfully brutal ways (oh, he's making salsa so he can put his hand in the blender!), and let's be honest, they deserve it. Look, the Cap'n is something of a fuddy duddy who still write a blog and can sometimes construct complete sentences. So yeah, internet and texting slang is not my thing. I won't turn this into a "all Millennials suck" thing, but can we address the central premise of Unfriended here?

 I guess this is supposed to be the horror equivalent of "cyberbullying going wrong" because not only does the video of Laura passed out leak, but so does her suicide video, which some piece of shit not only filmed with their cellphone, but also put online. Maybe that's how she cyberhaunts them, I neither know nor care. (Did you know the original title was Cybernatural? I am not making that up) I'd like to address the reaction to the first video, which we see in pieces throughout Unfriended. It starts with the suicide video, because, why wouldn't it? But the video itself, uploaded to YouTube, is okay, drunken and embarrassing. It's a mean thing to do because teenagers are horrible and should be murdered by cyberghosts but most of them grow up to be crushed by life and are therefore less rotten. Not all, but most. Still, the reaction to the "Laura Barns" video on YouTube is, shall we say, excessive.

 "OMG Kill Urself" seems to be the primary comment she got, which is really a big leap to make for a video of being passed out and soiled / bloody. Sure, it's not the best way to look online, but to leap to "you should kill yourself because ha ha look at that just go ahead and commit suicide" stretches the already tenuous credibility of Unfriended. And yeah, I realize I'm talking about a movie called Unfriended which takes place entirely on Girlfriend's computer screen and has Facebook and YouTube and Spotify and Skype and who knows what else I'm forgetting. Yes, I realize the premise is inherently ridiculous, but do teenagers really leap to "Kill Urself" as the only viable option to being ridiculed online? If there was going to be a "straw that broke the camel's back" in the verisimilitude of Unfriendm that would be it. I can't believe I just typed that sentence.

 But here we are, and that's just one of the dumb things these morons do prior to being killed off one by one. My other favorite example is when Girlfriend makes her whole screen visible to everyone else and never turns that function off, but continues having private messages with Boyfriend. I mean, she makes a big point of "sharing" the screen and then never turns it off. They can all see what you're typing, idiot. Of course, so can the audience. I'm not really sure how being a ghost on the web translates into being able to cut off the power in their houses, or to plant a webcam in someone's ventilation, but whatever. At a certain point you just go with it.

 I know I said that Unfriended wasn't as terrible as I thought it would be, and even as mean as mean this review is turning out, I'll give director Leo Gabriadze (Unfriended 2*) and writer Nelson Greaves (Sleepy Hollow) some credit. They do manage to set everything up early on, from the ways that characters are going to die to flat out telling you who was responsible for the video when Girlfriend tries to report Laura's Facebook page (gee, I wonder who shot the video?). When Girlfriend goes on ChatRoulette to get help (no, really), it's a pretty funny reflection of how hard it would be to get someone to take you seriously. I suppose the game of "Never Have I Ever" that's the climax of the film has what passes for tension in Unfriended. The very end of the movie - which is the only time the camera isn't focused on a computer screen - is arguably one of the better "jump scares" I've seen in modern horror. It at least reinforces the idea that we've been watching the entire movie from first person perspective. So, uh, good job?

 Let's be honest here: Unfriended is not the kind of horror movie you're going to watch seriously. I can't fathom having seen this in a crowded theater without everybody erupting into laughter. Its "R" rating means that the entire target audience for this film couldn't go see it, which is both good and bad. Good that there's an R rated horror movie, but bad that it's this. I can't imagine a room full of adults wanting to subject themselves to Unfriended without copious amounts of alcohol and or drugs (drugs are bad, kids, mkay?), so it's not really clear who this was for. Now that it's on video, I would expect a lot of people are watching it ironically, which might be the best way to watch it. I'm not going to pretend it's a "guilty pleasure" because I didn't really like it. I doubt I would ever watch it again, but I guess it wasn't awful. Just bad in a kind of fun way. That said there are so many better options for "so bad it's good" out there that Unfriended should be reserved for one of those "oh, that's all that's left on Redbox / Netflix that we haven't seen" weekends. Make sure you have plenty to drink.

 * Yes, I just looked this up, and because I don't know what Lucky Trouble is (Milla Jovovich is in it), I will announce to you at the tail end of this review that somehow Unfriended is already on its way to having a sequel. So, uh, thanks, me.

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