Is horror making a comeback? I don’t remember when horror became bad but with the release of films like Texas Chainsaw 3D, Ouija and Antisocial it seemed horror had gone the way of the dodo. But with recent releases like The Babadook, It Follows and now Unfriended, it seems that horror is back with a bang.
Unfriended stars Shelley Hennig, Will Peltz and Jacob Moses Storm and is about a group of teenagers, who on the anniversary of a fellow classmates death, are supposedly haunted by the dead girl through their computers. Throughout the film we see the haunting carry out through Skype calls, Facebook and iMessages and Youtube videos, with the purported ghost contacting each teenager and revealing their secrets.
The setup of the film is a clever one. While other films have dabbled in social media and the internet (Namely Chat Room and Antisocial, neither which pulled it off) this is the first I can find of a film that takes place entirely on a laptop screen. For that reason alone Unfriended will divide the audience reception, with some loving and others hating it. This was evident in the screening I was in, where there were quite a few walkouts from audience members. You will have to be alert, with the main character flicking between tabs and windows and messages appearing in the corner of the screen, it will be overpowering to a few.
Unfriended is also one of the few films I’ve watched that manages to do the internet justice. Other films that contain the internet usually do so poorly, with various knock off versions of Facebook and Twitter, yet Unfriended has it all, all the right sound effects, the messaging, everything, lending the film a great deal of realism and believability. The Skype calls in particular, become pixelated and de-sync, leading to a small bit of the uncanny to slip into the film at opportune moments, ramping up the feeling of uneasiness.
Scares are littered throughout the film, ranging from the “loud noise bang” jump scare, through to heavily stylised moments of body horror, and even a few moments of complete silence/Lynchian monotone notes to build up the tension. There are a couple of bait-and-switch tactics, with supposed build up of tension and it turning out to be nothing, yet sometimes the film pulls a fast one and switches again, giving the scares an irregular beat, making the audience stay on the edge of their seat.
However, the best part of the film is allowing us as the audience to see the main character type out replies on her computer, delete them and retype something different. This inclusion gives us a real insight to the character that we see from, leading to some jaw dropping moments of deceit and double crosses in the second half of the film, not giving us jump scare horror, but human horror as we see the true nature of the characters on screen revealed.
The film has its weaknesses. The overarching story is pretty predictable, and if you pay attention to certain hints you’ll be able to solve the whodunit mystery that the ghost plays with the teenagers. Not to get too pretentious, but Chekov’s Gun (both figuratively and literally) turns up at least twice in the film, possibly more, leading to story points that you can see coming from a mile off. The teenagers themselves are the usual horror stereotypes; the funny one, the promiscuous one, the dumb one, but once the ghost starts to turn them against each other we see a bit more of some semblance of more rounded characters, but by then the film has descended into gore and loud noises.
In conclusion, you will either love or hate Unfriended. While it made descend into clichés and annoying jump scares, its interesting take on the horror genre is enough to raise it above just being a stupid gimmick movie.
Score: 7/10 An interesting an solid entry in the resurgence of horror.