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Director: Leo Gabriadze
Release Date: March 13, 2015 (SXSW)
Billed as ushering in “a new era of horror,” Unfriended had quite the tagline to live up to leading up to its SXSW premiere. As technology and horror continue to grow alongside one another, many young filmmakers are utilizing creative ways to incorporate what’s become everyday life into the genre that loves to twist and subvert it. Something that has been toyed around with in recent years is utilizing multiple “screens” to tell the story. For example, Nacho Vigalondo’s Open Windows told the entire film through screens a la security cameras, laptops, cell phones, etc.
Similar to the aforementioned film comes Unfriended, but raises the stakes (and technical difficulty) of telling a gripping, compelling horror film completely through a teenage girl’s laptop. Does Unfriended ultimately succeed in its attempt of truly ushering in this new era of horror, or does it become yet another failed attempt to modernize horror films?
On the anniversary of their high school classmate Laura Barns’ (Heather Sossaman) death, Blaire (Shelley Hennig), Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm), Jess (Renee Olstead), Adam (Will Peltz), Ken (Jacob Wysocki) and Val (Courtney Halverson) are having a normal night, video Skyping one another. However, a mysterious, unseen stranger named “billie227” claims to be Laura and is seeking revenge for a humiliating video that led to her suicide. To accomplish this, “billie227” pits the friends against one another as their deepest secrets are revealed, threatening to not only ruin friendships, but could lead to untimely deaths.
The film can be a bit jarring to watch as everything plays out through Blaire’s laptop, immersing the audience and having them become a part of the film as another unseen voyeur watching high schoolers fight amongst one another. At the same time, it’s very reflective of our modern society where technology has replaced such intimate meetings just a generation earlier would have by physically meeting one another. While I’m only in my late 20s, I never experienced group Skype calls with people outside of conference calls for work, so the immersion of contemporary high schoolers’ interactions and essentially becoming “one of them” adds an extra layer of tension once the horror truly begins.
It’s easy for experimental genre films to be forgotten once the festival circuit has ended, but Unfriended is definitely not one that will be forgotten easily. With NBC Universal’s backing, the film is destined to have some minor success at the box office, and will find a devoted audience. It may not reach Paranormal Activity levels, but I can see Unfriended serving as a stepping stone to both cast and crew alike.