SXSW 2015 Review: UNFRIENDED May Spell The End Of Social Media
"HEY u guyz!!!"
"Hey, I think there's a mean and NASTY serial killer in the video chat room with us."
"Get outta here!!!!!!!"
"No, I'm serious!"
"I am TOO, DUDE!"
The above quotations are not taken directly from Unfriended, but are intended to convey some of the texture, the nuance, and the typing/spelling skills of the characters portrayed in the movie.
Unlike Nacho Vigalondo's Open Windows, which debuted at SXSW last year and takes place on a variety of screens and locations using different types of footage, Unfriended unfolds entirely on a computer screen belonging to teenage Blaire (Shelley Hennig). She and her boyfriend are video chatting and flirting one night before they are joined by three friends. A fourth joins in too, and they're happily chatting and sending private messages and listening to music and whatnot when an anonymous stranger is revealed to have joined them.
Naturally, the kids assume this is a prank of some kind, and blame each other, but once the principals are proved to be not responsible, they start really freaking out, especially because the stranger gives the impression that she is actually a friend of theirs who committed suicide after an extremely embarrassing video of her was posted to YouTube. The stranger also appears to be a master hacker, disabling functions on a variety of computer programs so as to further unnerve the group.
Unfriended is presented as though the audience was watching the action on headphones, which would explain why certain sounds are WAY louder than others. The screen is packed with all kinds of social programs, as Blaire frantically types away, messaging her boyfriend, checking email, checking Facebook, Skyping, searching for information on various websites, and so forth. (But no Twitter, for some reason.) It's all displayed in a very fast and furious fashion by director Levan Gabriadze, and the authenticity of the computer interactions, drawn from an original screenplay by Nelson Greaves, are a sight to behold.
But that lasts for about 10 minutes, and then we're faced with yet another modern horror movie that portrays all its characters in a very unflattering light. (By the way, whatever happened to sympathetic characters in horror movies who may have been flawed, yet refrained from whining and shouting to express how much they really don't like each other? Is this the influence of television reality shows?)
Their behavior, as well as their past sins, as well as how all this ties to the death of their friend, is teased out over the course of the movie, even as the serial killing aspect rears its familiar head. In the meantime, we're treated to the sight of frantic typing and tiny screens popping on and off and a lot of "YOU DIDN'T DO THAT, DID YOU?" followed by "YES I DID! I'M SOOOO SORRY!" Really, once the "close friends" are revealed to be really bad friends who hung out together for no apparent reason, nothing that they do in the movie is surprising or shocking, even when it stretches toward the supernatural. And not to be a fuddy-duddy, but ALL of them are home alone?
What's left is the gimmick of the format, which for some people will be enough. YMMV.
The film screened yesterday at SXSW, is screening again today (about now), and will screen one more time on Friday, March 20. Producer Jason Blum, who introduced the screening yesterday, said that the film may change between now and its wide theatrical release in the U.S. on Friday, April 17.