Unfriended movie review: bullying, suicide and Californian teens
I Know What You Did Last Summer and Cyberbully’s mediocre lovechild
Release date: April 17
Studio: Universal Pictures
Six ridiculously good-looking high school students played by actors in their mid-to-late twenties. Lies. Betrayal. Unsubtle product placement. What is this, Degrassi?
Minus the ghost trying to murder everyone via blackmail, bodily possession and social media, Unfriended would be your average teen movie.
If you’ve used Pandora or YouTube within the past month or so, you’ve probably seen at least 10 advertisements for it.
Unfriended is about a group of high school friends in Fresno, California terrorized by the spirit of former classmate Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), who was pushed to suicide as a result of cyberbullying after an embarrassing video of her was posted online.
The story takes place on the anniversary of Laura’s death and is told from the perspective of Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig), a beautiful, seemingly-naïve senior whose only worries seem to be planning prom and when to have sex with her boyfriend, Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm), for the first time.
The film is presented as one continuous screenshot of Blaire’s MacBook – the audience can only see what she sees on her computer screen, from her Gmail inbox to her Spotify account to her browser history.
Each of the characters in the movie is painfully stereotyped: the handsome, preppy bro, Adam (Will Peltz); the funny, heavy-set dude, Ken (Jacob Wysocki); the ditzy blonde, Jess (Renee Olstead); and a girl who doesn’t live long enough to have a real personality, Val (Courtney Halverson).
Throughout the movie, the tech-savvy poltergeist sends the group messages from Laura’s idle Facebook and Skype accounts, pitting them against each other, hacking into their accounts to reveal sinister secrets and threatening to kill them. If they log off, call the police or fail to tell the truth about the cyberbullying that provoked her death, Laura possesses their bodies and forces them to commit suicide.
This game continues until the truth behind the online scandal is revealed.
You most likely don’t recognize any of the actors’ names. That was the point. Believing the characters are actual people – whose images haven’t been polished or destroyed by Hollywood (yet) – is the magic of found-footage movies.
The use of no-name actors would have added to the credibility of the movie if two of them hadn’t already acted in popular teen drama television series. Watching Blair Witch Project-style close-ups of the sobbing, snot-covered faces of Malia from Teen Wolf (Hennig) and Madison from The Secret Life of the American Teenager (Olstead) is disturbing, especially to your inner 14-year-old.
Though their incredible good looks and corny personalities make suspended disbelief difficult, the actors behave enough like teenagers to make their Skype call feel somewhat genuine.
Although it was supposed to be a horror movie, I found myself giggling more often than shrieking. Some details are cute: Johnny Cash lyrics open in Blaire’s browser and a torrent downloading of Miley Cyrus’ episode of Saturday Night Live. However, not every laugh is solicited. Cheesy details – including inconsistent use of archaic chat-speak – induce laughter coupled with simultaneous wincing.
Subtlety is not this movie’s strong suit. Any time lingo the audience might not be familiar with appears (such as “troll,” or the game “Never Have I Ever”) Blaire conveniently doesn’t know what it is and someone has to explain it to her. This happens more than once, despite the fact that she has Tumblr open in one of her tabs. How does a Tumblr user not know what a “troll” is?
Overall, the movie feels like a giant public service announcement. Cyberbullying is a huge problem in our society that needs to be discussed, but what’s the solution? Teaching the underage kids who will inevitably sneak into the R-rated movie that if you say mean things online a ghost will come murder you through the Internet?
The scare-factor, however, is underwhelming. I only found myself hiding in my sweater twice – anticipating jump scares that never came. The predictable plot and outrageous teen drama was scarier than the actual gore. The only part that really made me cringe (good ol’ hand in the blender) was shown in the trailer – bummer.
Maybe this is a film meant to be watched on a computer, not on a giant screen, curled up on a recliner with a bucket of popcorn and a 64-ounce “small” Coke Zero.
Upon leaving the theater, I went home and sarcastically tweeted, “I REALLY ENJOYED THE HEAVILY-ADVERTISED, GOOGLE/APPLE/FACEBOOK/SKYPE-SPONSORED PSA/CYBERBULLY REMAKE I JUST PAID $11 TO SEE.”
That basically sums it up.
Grace Trimper is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org