MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Unfriended’ Is Not Worth The Price Of Admission

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Film: Unfriended
Starring: Heather Sossaman, Matthew Bohrer
Directed by: Levan Gabriadze

Serving as the first ‘all on-screen’ horror film to open in thousands of theaters nationwide, Unfriended boasts a relatively fresh gimmick and almost nothing else.

Remember that long period of silence at the beginning of Wall-E? Replace the colorful animation, comedy, and adorable robots with the computer screen of a high school-aged girl named Blaire who likes to watch videos online without making them full screen and you pretty much have the opening fifteen minutes of Unfriended. The film takes place entirely on Blaire’s laptop, so unless someone is talking via Skype or a song is played via Spotify, there is nothing to be heard except the tapping of fingers on keys and the clicking of links on the screen. If what we were being shown was engaging this wouldn’t be a problem, but Unfriended makes the poor decision to use a slow burn formula for its scares, and in doing so leaves its first act with almost nothing interesting to offer.

The reason we’re staring at Blaire’s screen on this particular evening is never made clear, but based on what she browses online during the film’s opening scenes we learn another girl, Laura Barnes, died exactly one year before by committing suicide at her school after a video of her being black out drunk at a party surfaced online. Blaire views the infamous video, as well as a LiveLeak clip of the actual suicide, and then things start to get weird. Laura, or someone using her still active Facebook account, contacts Blaire. It’s innocent enough at first, but things slowly turn from strange to violent as Blaire enters a group Skype conversation with her closest friends. She doesn’t share Laura’s mysterious message at first, but soon they notice an anomaly with the chat, and before long it’s clear Laura Barnes may in fact be back from the dead.

To borrow from Roger Ebert, it’s at this point that Unfriended becomes another ‘dead teenager’ movie. It’s a story told in real time using webcams that just so happens to become excessively glitchy whenever something terrible is about to happen. I don’t know about you, but when I pay to see a horror movie I expect to see some carnage, or at least a few jump scares scattered amidst largely off-screen violence. Unfriended offers very little of either, and what is shown is never enough to make the characters rethink their actions. In one moment they will be terrified as they watch another close friend lose their life, then within five minutes they’re calling each other “bitches” and fighting about drama from their past. I can understand feeling scatterbrained in the moment, but amongst six main characters not a single one has a brilliant idea, or even stops to take in what has happened to the people we’re supposed to believe are their closest pals. That alone makes Unfriended a difficult watch, and when coupled with the lack of true scares there are few reasons to believe anyone will make it through this film’s 87-minute runtime feeling engaged throughout.

Let me be clear: My issues with Unfriended have almost nothing to do with the fact the story is told through a computer screen. There have been numerous indie filmmakers in recent years who have used this same gimmick to attract attention for their projects, and quite a few have delivered impressive features. Open Windows, for example, found a way to introduce car chases and multi-angle voyeurism into the world of computer terror. The Den, which predates both Unfriended and Open Windows, used computer glitches and 24/7 Skype video chats to introduce a serial killer.

Unfriended offers nothing new outside of the fact it has the widest release of any film in this still young subgenre of horror, and that alone is far from enough to make it worthy of recommendation. I think Universal saw the film perform well with test audiences and thought it could possibly be the next Paranormal Activity. After all, it only cost $1 million to make, so it doesn’t even have to make $10 million before the studio sees profits. In a time where films like Furious 7 have to make hundreds of millions before turning a profit, releasing a film like Unfriended is pretty much a guaranteed profit. It doesn’t even have to be good a film. As long as people go on opening weekend, which is when most people try to see horror films so that they can avoid spoilers, Unfriended will be, on some small level, a success.

I cannot prevent Unfriended from eventually turning a profit, but I can plead with you to not see this film and instead invest your money in one of the dozens of great indie horror features to surface in the last year. It doesn’t even have to be one of the films included in this review. Just don’t allow yourself to be fooled into believing Unfriended is somehow a ‘good movie’ due to the fact it’s opening on thousands of screens across the country this weekend, because I am telling you it is not. At its very best, Unfriended is a mediocre watch that makes mediocre use of a relatively new gimmick that will likely be overdone to the point of exhaustion just like found footage was five years ago. You would be better off buying $10 worth of junk food and spending the night staring at your own laptop. At least then you can open Netflix and find something worthwhile to watch.

GRADE: C-

Review written by James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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  • Chunk Basker

    C- is a Kind rating for a Borderline F, who am I kidding I give this movie a 0 for being incomplete and getting nothing right.

    No plot/Bad cameras (lack of cameras)/boring long pauses/predictable throughout movie/bad acting(well what acting really)/Entire movie is a Gimmick/Lag? Really?/Cash grab at braindead teens.

    Zero is what this movie offers. Expect to walk out of the movie halfway through, if you can even tolerate that much.