Sunday, April 19, 2015

Unfriended Review

This could either be really, really good... or be laughably bad. Guess which it is?

So I've come to terms with the fact that I'm a sucker for a good horror movie. For a while, I've claimed that horror movies were never really my thing, but after seeing great horror movie after great horror movie, I've been hooked into the genre. However, I'm still defending the fact that 90% of most modern horror movies suck. They just don't understand what's scary and how to scare an audience. Horror isn't having things pop out and go boo. Horror is a slow build up with a satisfying payoff. When you frighten an audience with a jump scare, you're surprising the audience, which will frustrate them after a while for constantly falling for the jump scares. The horror genre now is populated by more Conjurings and Paranormal Activities than Oculuses and Babadooks. So where does Unfriended land on the spectrum?

Surprisingly enough, Unfriended is good. Really, really good. From the first trailer, I wanted to give this movie the benefit of the doubt because it reeked of everything wrong with the genre. It had a lot of teenagers that were speaking like how an old 40 year old thinks teenagers speak, and including social media is always a very tricky subject to mess with. There's always the fact that the social media you're portraying/satirizing/commentating is going to be irrelevant in a month or two. So the question wasn't how good this movie would be, but how relevant it would be to our modern 21st century mentality. Make no mistake though, this is the first horror movie that I can firmly say is wholly inspired by our youth. It's very much like how Spring Breakers could not exist in any other time period; it's unique to our generation and our culture.

So what is this movie even about? It revolves around 6 teenagers, all of whom are completely forgettable, Skyping each other on a school night. It's been a year since their friend, Laura Barns, committed suicide through cyber bullying. She was caught of film drunk, shitting herself, and just being completely embarrassing, which was then posted online. Due to all of the bullying, she shot herself in school and was mourned. So after a year, during the Skype call, a random account joins in on the Skype call claiming to be Laura. And she wants revenge for what her friends did to her. The rest of the movie is just a single Skype call with the risk constantly increasing and the terror as well.

So there you have it. It's a simple Skype call between seven people (with one that may or may not be dead), and constantly cycling through browsers and programs. It took me a couple of minutes to get used to the premise though because, quite honestly, I had never seen a movie like this before. Hell, I don't think I'm going to see a movie like this in a long time to be quite honest. It doesn't feel like a movie, but that's a compliment. It feels real. It feels like these are actual teenagers and that their lives are spiraling out of control because of this spirit. Our vision is just the screen of a laptop. We don't see hand clicking on keyboards, hands on the screen, or the laptop being moved. It's like someone just screen shared on a projector.

But let's not talk about how unique this movie is, because I am almost certain that Unfriended is going to become the next phenomenon. It's going to be driven to the ground like other prominent horror franchises and completely overstay its welcome, only to be taken away in relevancy by another new franchise. However, let's talk about something that makes me giggle with joy just thinking about it. Every single character in this movie is an awful, despicable human being to the point where you're actually rooting for Laura to kill them all. Only not really, because it's still killing teenagers.

The movie makes it no secret that these teenagers are awful people and are actual cyber bullies, so watching them receive their comeuppance through social media, memes, and other online harassment is oddly apropos. I'm instantly reminded of recent online incidents that damage people's lives like recent DDOS attacks on companies, swatting people, or even outright hacks and trolling. It's watching some of the worst examples of how the internet has influenced the youth of our culture and seeing the movie go "You want to play ball? Let's play ball."

I alluded to Spring Breakers earlier in this review because I feel like Unfriended draws several similar aspects from that movie. Say what you will about Spring Breakers as a movie, but there is no denying that it was at least trying to say something about our culture and our generation. I feel like Unfriended is cut from that same cloth, presenting complex ideas about internet relations, how our generation uses and abuses technology, and outright condemns their usage of it by tormenting and killing them. It's a critique of our generation, and because I truly abhor about 90% of Generation Y, I took a particular glee in watching this movie. But that's not to say I only liked the social commentary from this movie. I just thought it was one hell of a ride to begin with.

The movie is surprisingly short, clocking in at just over 80 minutes, but it never feels too short. It justifies its runtime by jumping right into the action. From the very beginning of their Skype call, Laura's account is present, but doesn't say anything. It's just always there, watching the characters talk and react. It's not until 5 minutes or so that Laura begins to message them, and from there all hell breaks lose. There are several quiet moments, but a lot of the moments are mostly atmospheric. The very first teenager that gets attacked by Laura is attacked in such an unsettling manner. I won't spoil what happens, but all she does is just stare directly at the viewer, and then the horrible reality finally sinks in. It's unsettling for just long enough, but it leaves one hell of an impression on the viewer.

What's even better is that you as an audience member feel like you're a part of this experience. You see notifications pop up and you're looking at various screenshots from different websites. It's almost like a fun little treat to see our "protagonist" Blaire look around on Facebook while looking at her connection between her friends. Plus whenever you hear a little notification sound, you know that something awful is going to happen.

The ending itself isn't particularly mind blowing, but it's just a constant rush to see how Blaire tries to escape to Skype call and even save her friends. Even when the movie is almost over, I'm wondering how it's going to end and how Blaire will eventually exit the Skype call. While I didn't necessarily buy the fact that Blaire was the only one that could have atoned for her crimes, and that I still don't really know how Laura's spirit was able to do what it was capable of, the last minute of the movie degraded down into a poor jump scare without the Skype call. Again, not going to spoil what happens, but the last few moments of the movie just kind of were lackluster to me in comparison to the great usage of the internet.

True story; I saw this movie on opening night with a bunch of friends. One of them being Jon Scott, who writes fortheloveoffilmreviews, which you should totally go and read. Anyway, we were both dead set that this was going to be a movie that we would laugh at, move on, and talk about it as a joke. Hell, that's what the other four people we saw it with thought as well. However, as the movie slowly progressed, we realized just how committed we were into the movie. It's very rare that I say this, but Unfriended is an experience that needs to be seen to fully understand. The only way that this movie can be done justice is to watch it with a group of people (preferably Generation Y people) and just see how real this movie can get. Unfriended is what you get if you kill people through the power of 4Chan. If that doesn't terrify you, then nothing will.


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