Review: “Unfriended” falls short of excellence

    Simultaneously innovative and unengaging, “Unfriended” delivers an adequate performance that serves more as a tacky teenage movie with a message than as a blood-curdling thriller. The film — released by Blumhouse Productions and the Bazelevs Co. last weekend — has its moments but fails to reach the ranks of the many horror films that came before it.

    “Unfriended,” told entirely within the frame of a teenage girl’s laptop screen, follows a Skype group call between six friends on the anniversary of their friend’s suicide. After a humiliating drunk video of their friend was posted, they anonymously took part in cyberbullying her by posting malicious comments on the video, eventually resulting in her suicide. Their past comes back to haunt them a year later when they receive threatening messages from their friend’s account. Unable to disconnect the unknown presence from their group chat, the friends are roped into a night of sadistic games and forced confrontations. If they log out, they die.

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    Blaire (Shelley Hennig) screams in fright as she witnesses her friend’s murder over Skype. Photo courtesy of MTV.

    The message the film is trying to convey is clear: Be careful of what you post on the Internet because your digital footprint lasts forever. In an era where social media dominates much of teenagers’ lives, this message is essential. Screenwriter Nelson Greaves’s decision to set the entire film on the protagonist’s laptop creates a hauntingly real environment. No longer are the horror movie victims targeted by a possessed porcelain doll or trapped in a haunted house — the horror of “Unfriended” lies directly on the familiar pages of YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.

    Viewers literally see the plot unfold through the eyes of the protagonist. Every Facebook or Skype notification she gets, every song she listens to on Spotify, every message she types out but deletes before sending is exposed to the audience. This new, unfamiliar sense of intimacy between the individuals on either sides of the screen is unlike any other.

    Despite its clever concept, the film fails to deliver a satisfying overall experience. The trailer, although brilliantly made, essentially spoils the entire movie. The plot becomes predictable, and as a result, it’s a bit boring at parts. Much like many other thrillers, the storyline isn’t particularly complex. However, the frightening aspect of the other movies often counteracts their dull plots, making them enjoyable to watch.

    Featuring clips from viral YouTube videos, the “Unfriended” trailer presents a summary of the movie’s plot.

    In this movie, the hinted scariness from the trailer is barely present in the film itself. With the age-old what’s-behind-the-closet-door question replaced with what’s-in-the-jpeg-image-I-just-received and the classic, chilling telephone ring replaced with the feeble ping of an unknown notification, the spook factor of “Unfriended” is minimal at best. There are several jump scares scattered throughout, but don’t count on this to be your new favorite horror movie.

    That being said, the writing isn’t all bad. The considerably static plot is interlaced with jokes that are sure to make you laugh out loud. The humor is well-suited for high school students, and the dynamic of the on-screen teenagers is much like that of an average friend group. As a whole, the film offers decent entertainment and should not be missed by those who wish to have a good laugh.

    Although “Unfriended” may not be one of the best movies of the year, it most certainly deserves to be remembered as a timely snapshot of the 21st century.

    “Unfriended”

    1 hour, 23 minutes

    Rated R for violent content, pervasive language, some sexuality, and drug and alcohol use — all involving teens

    Directed by Levan Gabriadze

    Starring Shelley Henning, Moses Jacob Storm, Renee Olstead, Courtney Halverson

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