Unfriended is the kind of movie you go in with little to no expectation, which is the only way it can be properly enjoyed. Everything about it screams plot holes and cheap scares, from the forcefully ‘sexy’ beginning scene to the dismal ending. The characters are written in such a way that one can’t help but side with the crazy vengeful spirit who targets them.
Shelley Henig stars in a second of these high school horror flicks—the first being the dreadful farce called Ouija—this time playing the lead, Blaire Lily. So, it starts with a Skype video chat with her boyfriend Mitch Roussel. It’s sexy, supposedly to warm the crowd and prepare us for an eventual fall-out between the two. Whatever happens in that first scene did not make us care one ounce for that couple. Just saying.
Fortunately, a conference call from their other friends interrupts their Skype flirtation. It is, apparently, something youngsters do—calling each other through Skype and having a good virtual hangout. I’m going to have to observe the youth around me more closely, because Skype has so far been only used by my parents to talk to far-off relatives.
The group of friends is as such: blonde Jess, hot Will and nerdy Ken. (None of them look sixteen.) Except there is a sixth member in the Skype conference, someone called billie227. Billie227 has no picture and does not reply to their questions. I will not lie; the movie had me intrigued at that moment.
Simultaneously, Blaire starts receiving messages from the Facebook account of her recently deceased friend, Laura Barnes. A bit of context to clarify: Laura was a fellow schoolmate, who committed suicide after an embarrassing video of her was posted online. So yes, the movie is a PSA against cyber bullying as every critic out there pointed out. Future offenders behold the terrible power of the spirits of cyber bullies—if only we could take the movie seriously, that is.
Blaire notifies her boyfriend Mitch through imessage, who also tells her he has been receiving the same messages. ‘Just block her’ he advises unhelpfully. Blaire can’t do it of course. She doesn’t know it yet, but she is not dealing with your regular baseless hacker.
The friends try to get rid of billie227, but it is impossible. Blaire gets increasingly anxious over the messages she has been getting, still sticking to the hacker theory. She goes to Laura Barnes’ Facebook profile and attempts to memorialize it in order to stop the unknown perpetrator. It does not work, of course.
What follows is a series of the stupidest arguments one could ever have the misfortune of witnessing. The group is convinced that the one behind the Laura Barnes messages is that one girl Val that they all hated. So, because they hated her, it must have been her. They call Val only to realize that she is not billie227. Simultaneously, evil Laura Barnes releases compromising pictures of Val through Jess’ Facebook account. Catfight ensues. We sit through a good virtual catfight that escalates into a hysterical back and forth of insults. By the time it ends, we discover that Val was one of the first to tell Laura Barnes to kill herself after the release of the compromising video.
Naturally, Val dies. It is perhaps the most frightening moment of the movie mainly because it is the first death. Witnessing it through Skype certainly changes the dimensions of the scares, considering that the characters can do nothing to help her out. They watch as a passive Val sits immobile and stares blankly ahead, like a frozen picture. Yet, when they call her, they see her mobile phone vibrating on the table. Something was definitely wrong with Val, and that thing was Laura Barnes.
Billie227 continues her vendetta, vowing to reveal the ugly secrets of the group, using Skype as its medium. She forces the group into a game of ‘Never Have I Ever’ a classic trope of teenage horror films. So the truths are revealed, and really, we don’t really want to root for any of them by the time Laura is done.
If the point of the film was to position it as part of a bigger campaign against online bullying, then it makes it easier not to feel guilty about wanting them dead. But if the movie really wanted us to care about Blaire and her clique of obnoxious teens…well, I still could not feel any less guilty for wishing them dead. Not one of them ever has the good sense of doing some introspective thinking, may be wonder about why Laura’s spirit was targeting them. It is characterization at its finest, the only way a horror flick like that can function.
All in all, the one good reason to watch the film is really for its creative use of technology. Facebook, Instagram, Skype, iMessage all meet to keep us invested in what might have been a rather boring movie. The threat of technology is one we can all relate too, not only from Laura’s perspective but from the other characters’ too. Their inability to even move away from their computers (under Laura’s threat to kill them) ironically comments on our compulsive usage of these devices. Had none of them opened their computer that night, it might have gone on very differently.
It was interesting to also notice the total absence of parents in the picture, which has to allude to earlier slasher films from the eighties. Once again, this goes on to show that whatever happens on social networks often does without the parents’ knowledge. See, I knew there was some depth to be found in this movie after all.