Unfriended

Posted by Joel Copling on April 17, 2015


Disregard the stuff about a dead girl's spirit haunting her Skype, Facebook, Gmail, and Instagram accounts, and "Unfriended" is a lesson in efficiency. The aforementioned Internet websites and utilities are the setting of this clever, creepy twist on the recent "found footage" subgenre of movies, and excepting the final five seconds of the runtime, they are all we see (as well as YouTube briefly throughout). It's a clever trick, but director Leo Gabriadze is too clever to make the movie entirely about how unique the window into this heightened situation involving a dead girl's spirit is. It's a ruthless exercise of airing out dirty laundry, and it's actually at the behest of a pretty solid motivation--perhaps childish on the surface, but in answer to the type of humiliation from which teens like this in the real life truly do suffer.

In fact, in its own way, the situation plays out pretty logically, because if this was really happening, we can imagine it would play out like this--ignoring the clear leaps in logic, obviously, such as where are all the parents. That stuff's child's play, though, compared to how methodically Nelson Greaves' screenplay builds its characters in time with building the suspense. Here are scares at the service of themes, rather than scares for their own benefit. The human characters, who would usually be fodder for the machinations of a tired take on the teen slasher genre, instead get to have the luxury of something akin to development. It's not entirely three-dimensional development, mind you, but through the prism of a series of Internet conversations, anything more than obnoxious posturing from annoying people is a miracle.

It's been a year since Laura Barns (Heather Sossamon) publicly committed suicide, an incident that was caught on a fuzzy but unnerving video that opens the film. She was the victim of bullying from anonymous sources, who urged her to kill herself after a video involving a drunken Laura defecating herself after a wild party made the rounds around her school. Her best friend Blaire (Shelley Hennig), Blaire's boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm), and their mutual friends Adam (Will Peltz), Jess (Renee Olstead), Ken (Jacob Wysocki), and Val (Courtney Halverson) all engage in a lengthy Skype conversation perforated by the presence of an anonymous account that won't hang up and cannot be disconnected.

What follows plays like a nightmare. The presence on the other end of that blue figure might be Laura's spirit, though the film plays the possibility that it's simply of the six on the call for all its worth (Blaire is particularly aggravated at Mitch for a time before realizing that the cause is much more sinister). The experience frays the nerves of these adolescent relationships nearly to the point of no return, such as in an extended game of Never Have I Ever, in which the stakes are raised beyond the usual lose-the-game-take-a-shot formula. The particulars for how each of the characters is knocked off are ludicrous, of course, and it's in the final seconds that the film reveals itself to be every bit the supernatural-demon-spirit movie it has promised not to be, but "Unfriended" is still a chilling exploration into every facet of the phrase, "Bullying is wrong, kids."

Film Information


Shelley Hennig (Blaire), Renee Olstead (Jess), Will Peltz (Adam), Courtney Halverson (Val), Heather Sossaman (Laura Barns), Moses Jacob Storm (Mitch), Jacob Wysocki (Ken).

Directed by Leo Gabriadze and written by Nelson Greaves.

Rated R (violent content, pervasive language, sexuality, drug/alcohol use).

82 minutes.

Released on April 17, 2015.