One of the reasons The Blair Witch Project was such a big deal in the late 90s wasn’t so much its plot, but rather how the film was shot. The idea of a character carrying around a camera with them while they still play a part in the story was a novel idea, but though certain films like Chronicle and the Paranormal Activity films have also caught moviegoers’ attention, a lot of other movies that use the found-footage gimmick have been less successful.
Maybe audiences are growing fatigued with the way these movies are shot, or maybe they don’t like the actual stories in them all that much. Now, the latest film to use this technique has arrived in the form of Unfriended, but it pulls it off in a clever way by committing to its own unique gimmick, and the result is a fairly enjoyable film for horror fans, if not one that offers little depth beyond its presentation.
The entire movie actually takes place on the laptop screen of a high schooler named Blaire (Shelley Hennig), who is casually interacting with her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm) and several other friends via a Skype video chat. It’s brought up early on that a classmate named Laura was humiliated to the point of suicide via a viral video exactly a year ago, and it doesn’t take long for that plot thread to take center stage when an anonymous user intrudes on the chat using Laura’s old account. The user isn’t willing to say who they are or what their end goal is, but they soon prove to have nefarious intentions for everyone else on the chat, escalating from divulging shameful secrets to ultimately straight up murdering them.
If the movie sounds light on plot and character development, that’s because it is. The most we get from Blaire are some hints at happier times and other personal secrets between her and Laura in the past, while the other friends are lucky to have even one distinct trait. The overall story is technically a straightforward slasher, as well.
What does make this movie worth a look is how it’s presented. As far as I know, there hasn’t been a major movie before that makes use of laptop screens and technology to deliver its story. The killer also messes with the teens in appropriate ways, like disabling functions on Facebook, being unable to get kicked off Skype, and unveiling embarrassing videos. Another nice touch is how things escalate between the teens when the more nasty secrets are made public. The last half hour or so especially focuses on this, and it’s both tense and engaging to see them start turning on each other.
If there is anything else worth bringing up, without going into spoilers, I was hoping that there would be a bit more of a surprise regarding who the malicious force is and why they’re carrying out their actions. It basically ends up being exactly who you might think it is at first, and I was holding out hope that there might be some sort of interesting twist, but to no avail. The last few seconds of the movie in particular leave you with no doubt about what’s going on.
While Unfriended may have a standard slasher plot and an unsurprising reveal, I still had fun with it, to the point where I’d add an extra half-star to my score if I could. The movie takes its novel premise and gets some good moments out of it, and I like to give movies credit when they try something new, even if the final result isn’t a masterpiece. My only fear is that, like many successful new horror movies, the premise could get stretched out through less inspired and unnecessary sequels, especially since everything is tied up pretty neatly by the end. If you want some light horror fun, though, this is a good pick.