Director: Levan Gabriadze
Genre: Supernatural Horror
Claiming that a film is “far better than it ought to be” is a loaded statement: first and foremost, it connotes an intrinsic unit of measurement that can allow for anyone to judge a product solely on concept. Secondly, this statement is an ultimate offense to any film that proves a viewer wrong, as if the film had to prioritize validating its own existence over simply being a worthwhile piece of art. However, if that phrase can ever be used for a film, it’s for Blumhouse’s webcam-based horror flick UNFRIENDED.
Through its all-business setup, UNFRIENDED immediately drops its viewers into the antics of a high school posse, filled with all the angst, gossip, and awkward sexual tension that one would expect. The film doesn’t necessarily introduce its conflict with much subtlety, but it doesn’t need to. What makes UNFRIENDED brutally entertaining is that everyone seems comfortably aware that the film shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Unlike most found footage horror, UNFRIENDED capitalizes on playing its character drama off like a soap opera with a supernatural twist. And that’s where the biggest difference lies: UNFRIENDED remembers the importance of its characters and never throws them to the wayside in exchange for cheap thrills, because even when you’re dealing with rather one-dimensional, vapid high schoolers, it’s only fun to watch them die if you understand what they mean to each other.
The group of friends, but who’s that unknown caller…?
Fundamentally, UNFRIENDED is a clever little puzzle, and it utilizes its computer-based gimmicks intelligently, without ever going overboard on how many apps are in play. Borrowing heavily from 2013’s THE DEN, UNFRIENDED improves on the screen-cap concept by avoiding any contrivances in camerawork. Although the conflict develops quite obviously, there are a few surprises on the way that make for a more compelling narrative. The film is set up much like a video game, through obviously sequenced stages that come with entertaining puzzles and solutions. The only real detractor in the film’s form is its use of sound design, which opts for an approach in which certain sound effects gain and lose dominance in the mix, as if someone is controlling the separate volume functions of each app. It becomes oddly distracting, because it keeps reminding viewers that they are indeed watching a film.
It’s a little sad to say this, but it’s also undeniable: UNFRIENDED might be the first film in history that is better to watch on a laptop than on the big screen. Whilst it might be a stretch to claim that UNFRIENDED is ever scary, it also seems misguided to assume that the film’s core purpose is to scare its viewer, electing to continuously ratchet up tension instead. The entire film plays out like a darkly entertaining examination of cyber-bullying. It’s not necessarily a film that carries a serious sociological agenda, but the fact that it nearly confronts its subject material with the same ridiculous fervor that REEFER MADNESS tackled drug use, viewers can’t help but laugh, clap, and cheer as UNFRIENDED’s characters meet their befitting demise. Unfortunately for the film, the entire dramatic weight of the experience is rendered meaningless in its final five seconds, as if Blumhouse had an absolutely brilliant finale ready and realized they needed something more by-the-book. Nonetheless, UNFRIENDED is incredibly entertaining and innovative, and for a horror film, that ultimately separates the wheat from the chaff.
This review originally appeared here.