Unfriended hits US theater screens on April 17th, 2015.
“Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock, and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions this innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There’s a bomb beneath you and it’s about to explode!” – Alfred Hitchcock
From the opening shot of Unfriended, the audience is dropped, quite literally, into the lap of the protagonist. Blaire is hanging out at home, starting up a late night Skype chat session with her friends- the typical BS session kids would have about school, friends, parties. She starts a chat with her boyfriend Matt before they are interrupted by their other friends and… an anonymous user. What starts as an annoyance, the belief that a bored loser somewhere has hacked into their chat, quickly turns dark as the friends begin to figure out that this mysterious person seems to know quite a lot about them.
It’s no ordinary evening – it’s the anniversary of the day their friend Laura Barns shot herself after becoming an unwitting star in a viral video that humiliated her. Laura was the victim of relentless cyber-bullying, in the end creating another viral video of her suicide.
Unfriended digitizes conventional horror tropes. Video lag and screen glitches create the unsettling atmosphere once inhabited by fog and shadows. Chases take place across social media instead of through creepy old houses. Blaire “runs” from Skype to Facebook to Google, scrambling to find info on the sinister person who seems to know a lot of dark secrets about her friends.
The entire cast gives solid performances, and the story also modernizes another old horror cliché. In the 80s, the mere act of drinking, using drugs, or having sex was enough to get you targeted by the killer. In Unfriended, it’s about the consequences of those things: bullying, lying, cheating, the secrets that we hide from one another. In the social media age, narcissism is the thing that brings everyone down.
The spirit of Laura Barns is haunting her former friends, digging at them to reveal the unspoken truth that they all know; demanding that they reveal the secrets that will shred the bonds of their friendship. The pinnacle of suspense comes not from a chase scene or a jump scare, but possibly the wickedest game of “Never Have I Ever” ever played. The Spirit that haunts them treats death as an afterthought, and is more concerned with making everyone understand the depth and scope of pain that led her to take her own life. In the screening I attended, the scares got big reactions, but the revelations between friends truly sent chills through the audience.
In the end, we’re back to that Hitchcock quote about suspense. We’ve been watching a computer screen the entire time, watching Blaire’s friends die one by one, and there’s the unsettling dread of knowing that there is no fourth wall here. We’re seeing what Blaire sees, and what’s coming for her is coming for us.
Check out the official Unfriended trailer: