Unfriended review – cautionary cyberbullying thriller

Unfriended dislikes satisfying cyberbullying finale

Doubling as a horror suspense for the social media generation and the world’s most effective anti-cyber bullying PSA, Unfriended is a nervous laughing, edge of your seat, talk to the screen thriller, but a disappointing final act prevents it from being a modern classic.

It’s been a year after Laura (Heather Sossaman) committed suicide following an embarrassing video goes viral and someone claiming to be Laura has crashed an online chat of six of her classmates — Blaire (Shelley Hennig), Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm), Adam (Will Peltz), Jess (Renee Olstead), Ken (Jacob Wysocki) and Val (Courtney Halverson). The mysterious poster starts off innocently messaging them before sharing humiliating photos, forcing them to reveal their deepest, most hurtful secrets and ultimately killing them or forcing them to commit suicide themselves. That lack of clarity concerning the character deaths is the film’s biggest weak spot. A web page that suggests a link can make people kill themselves seems included to provide a possible explanation, but doesn’t fit with the film’s presentation.

Unfriended - Laura Barnes

In an updated twist on the 90s found footage gimmick, Director Leo Gabriadze shoots the film through an online chat perspective. While budget numbers weren’t yet announced, this isn’t an overly slick produced thriller, but it works thanks to the creative format.

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The thought of watching numerous webpage and apps opening and closing while dealing with the occasional buffer and streaming issues may sound horrifying enough for some. Gabriadze finds ways to not make the viewing experience feel like you’re just watching everything from a computer monitor. Sometimes it’s from adjusting the screen layout and collapsing some of the monitor windows while other moments benefit from the flaw in modern technology. Gabriadze takes advantage of the inherent anxiousness that comes from waiting on screens, pictures and videos to load and catch up, which is all the more nerve-racking for characters whose lives depend on their browsers not being half-fast.

Unfriended - Blaire, Adam and Mitch

The actors largely have to establish their characters while sitting in front of a computer. A few horror movie archetypes such as the virginal main female, the abrasive loudmouth and the fat comic relief are included, but there’s some welcome unexpected twists to their portrayal. Peltz and Hennig are the standouts, but there’s no weak link in the cast despite the limitations.

Debuting screenwriter Nelson Greaves has the Gen Z voice down so the characters sound like authentic, obnoxious teenagers. Greaves has a witty sense of humor and fully grasps the enjoyment of watching bratty, terrible teenagers suddenly fearful for their lives. I’d love to see his take on more traditional horror thrillers as they wouldn’t require such a cop-out payoff.

Suspense thrillers don’t need to explain everything for the viewer, but Unfriended’s resolution feels cheap. While films like Saw and Final Destination have these clever endings that make sense in the establish context of the film, Unfriended just leaves you with more questions. Was the murderer just a ghost in the machine or something else entirely? It’s rare that a film’s ending can prove so frustrating, but it’s only because the rest of the film is so enjoyable.

Unfriended - Blaire and Jess

Unfriended is an interesting experience best viewed with your text-a-lot pals. It’s not classic enough to hold up to repeated viewings, but for the majority of the ride it’s a blast until its rocky conclusion.

Rating: 7 out of 10

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