April 21, 2015

Movie Review: Unfriended

I have to admit to being a little skeptical when I first saw the trailer for Unfriended. I think I was turned off by the title. There was something about it that just sounded silly, trying to cash in on the power of Facebook, or something. I don't know. Still, I have to admit to being a little bit curious about how they were going to pull of this computer screen movie. Seems like the sort of concept that could quickly go off the rails and just not work. Good for us, or me at least, it works. I could say it is interesting or daring, but I am not sure those are the right words. More like different.

Unfriended actually made me think of that phony iPhone commercial that David Lynch made. You remember it, right? It was where he railed on how you can't watch a movie on your f—king phone. It was brilliant. Now this comes along and seems designed to watch on the small screen. I can imagine watching this on my laptop and seeing it take on a certain meta quality. You are watching a movie that is seen almost exclusively on a laptop screen, then watch it on a laptop. Funny....

The movie is not bad. Really. It brings in ideas of bullying, partying, and cyber bullying, and mixing it up with the ghost story. Of course, it is also perhaps a step removed from found footage films, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. What all this means is that you have a limited point of reference, you never have access to all of the information that you think you need. In other words, be prepared to not have your questions answered.

As I mentioned, the entire movie is seen through the screen of one of the characters laptops. We watch a group of friends interact, use Skype, Spotify, Facebook, Chrome, Google, YouTube, and probably a few others. Lots of logical product placement. It all begins with a character watching video of a classmate who committed suicide. Clearly she feels some sort of guilt and is revisiting it on the anniversary of the suicide. She is interrupted by her boyfriend and then a few others join in to the fun.

Clearly something is off as there is another participant in the call, but there is no voice, no video, and no avatar. Could it be the dead girl? Tension begins to build as games are played secrets are revealed, and people die. They dive the idea of bullying and how it is everywhere in these days of social media. When I was in school all you had to do was go home to get away from it. Kids can be mean these days and it is harder to avoid, and is touched on over the course of this. in some ways, the games the interloper plays flip the bullying back on the bullies, and peer pressured bullying is not an excuse. It should be taken to heart the effect this sort of stuff can have. Not everyone can come back from the grave and cyber attack their cyberbullies.

I was curious going in, suspected I would be disappointed, but I was not. I liked it. I thought the execution was clever and there was a nice, gradual build of tension, and performances that are generally effective. The story remains rather obtuse. I have an idea of what is happening, and that is an update on the old school ghost story for the cyber age. Perhaps a personal take on updating The Ring with current technology.

Is Unfriended a great movie? No, not really, but it is entertaining and it is worth watching. I would also not go so far as to call it revolutionary or a game changer. Still, we have not had many films like this, that I know of, it is a repackaging of familiar ideas with a new cover. It works. It has its jumps, its tension, and was genuinely involving. Definitely worth seeing.


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