Unfriended is an interesting concept: a group of friends who bullied a classmate who later committed suicide are stalked and tormented by an internet troll on the anniversary of the girl’s death. Things become much more sinister as the full involvement of the group in the events leading to their friend’s death are revealed and relationships within the group are strained to breaking point. The troll takes a more active role and people start dying. The entirety of the film is viewed through the computer screens of these teens as they Skype with each other, and their unknown assailant.
In terms of the use of technology and a group of young victims linked together by bullying, this film is quite similar to Australian film 6 Plots which is one of the first I wrote about here.
The dialogue is a strange mix of uncomfortable silences where people really should be talking to each other but don’t and far too long and loud sections where everyone is talking at once. As things get more desperate towards the end of the film the talking at once becomes one never ending screaming match which is both uncomfortable and boring at the same time.
This is essentially a teen slasher movie and has all of the stupidity and nonsense that goes along with the genre. No one really does anything practical or sensible to find out what is going on or to get help, especially in the early stages before the futility of opposing the killer is established. The high school kids all seem to live on their own with no parents, siblings, housemates or friends within 100 metres. No one seems to understand that you can turn a laptop off and use a landline to call for help. No one even thinks of going outside, going to a friend or neighbour for help. Maybe it is a subtle indictment of the younger generation’s dependence on technology. One of the kids even tries to use Chatroulette to call for help!
It is interesting to see the traditional stupidities of going to investigate a strange noise or splitting up to investigate the creepy basement replaced with clicking on links and responding to messages on Facebook. It is no less infuriating though to watch someone gleefully clicking on hyperlinks and downloading files sent to them by an unknown troll who has repeatedly expressed a desire to hurt or kill them and their friends. You’ll be yelling “Don’t click on that you moron!” at the screen rather than “Don’t go into the basement on your own!”. Towards the end people actually start going off to investigate strange noises but you can’t blame them for doing it alone since they were alone all through the film anyway.
All of the characters are either thoroughly unlikeable from the start or don’t get to develop far enough to become likeable (or unlikeable) before they are killed off. Consequently there is no reason for the viewer to care when they die. At least the “conversation” briefly gets a bit quieter as people drop out of the Skype chat. But then in order to increase the tension the director decides to have all the survivors scream at each other more or less non-stop for the last section of the film. Coupled with the constant up-the-nose camera angle used to portray the use of webcams, this gets pretty irritating pretty quickly.
There are some interesting hints that the dead girl herself was a bully and that what was done to her was in retaliation for equally nasty things she did to the rest of the cast. However, these hints are never really expanded on and are just strong enough to remove any sympathy you might have with the killer without actually making you think about having to reassess your opinions of the rest of the characters.
Like with most movies that feature an element of computer use, the main character uses a Mac. However it is nice to see that, in contrast to most other examples, the Mac is not held up as a paragon of virtue able to save the day simply by its superior coolness. In fact the Mac seems to have more problems than any of the other computers involved. Of course this could be just because it belongs to the main character. With some exceptions, most of the computer stuff is handled well and looks nicely authentic. Apparently the Skype and Facebook accounts are real. One thing I didn’t pick up on until most of the way through, there is lag and digital interference on the main character’s webcam on her own computer screen throughout the film.
Some of the kills seem to be themed in some way or use objects that are linked to the characters. The characters and in some cases the objects are so briefly sketched though that the impact of any link is lost. It could just be that the killer is making use of things that it is easy to get hold of, but some of them are weird enough to demand additional explanation which is never forthcoming.
According to cast and crew interviews (and IMDB trivia) the entire story was re-written multiple times to incorporate more or less supernatural elements and different degrees of guilt among the characters as well as multiple death scenes for most characters. There were also daily re-writes of individual scenes and the actors were encouraged to ad-lib some of their lines and reactions. This was supposedly done to make the dialogue seem more authentic and the reactions to events more genuine. To some extent this works as there is little of the cringeworthy dialogue that usually appears when a scriptwriter tries to write dialogue for teenagers. The reactions to some of the more shocking events in the film are also quite genuine even when they are annoying. However, where this succession of re-writes makes its biggest impression is in the lack of direction felt in the film. Instead of having a mysterious and edgy atmosphere it tends to just feel direction-less and meandering like the film itself doesn’t know where it is going until it is too late for it to try to make any kind of impact on the viewer.
Things take a disappointingly supernatural turn towards the end and although it never absolutely confirms who or what the killer is, it feels like this is just because the film makers couldn’t be bothered rather than any deliberate attempt at an ambiguous ending that would allow the viewers to make up their minds. In fact given the numerous changes mentioned above, it seems entirely possible that they genuinely couldn’t make up their minds.