film review: unfriended
An exciting new take on the found footage trope (which, incidentally did not have its origins with The Blair Witch Project – Cannibal Holocaust capitalised on this style in 1980) has hit the cinemas. Unfriended blends perfect pacing with some Lord of the Flies style kill-or-be-killed mentalities. Unfriended takes place entirely through Skype chat and Apple Mac screen shots, and although this sounds tedious it is anything but.
Unfriended boasts originality in its retelling of a genre subset whilst also paying homage to the horror character formula. There is the bitchy cheerleader who is sickeningly sweet to her friend’s faces only to spew vitriol as soon as their backs are turned. There is the “good girl” who loves her boyfriend and is kind and loyal – or is she? There is also the drunk, aggressive guy that is a loose cannon and the chubby, wise cracking dude. All of these characters do not completely emulate stereotypes but instead subtly emulate certain aspects, respecting the genre whilst maintaining originality.
Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman) is a teenage girl, whom after a wild night of drinking and partying with her “friends,” gets caught on camera in a compromising state. After the video is uploaded to YouTube, Laura commits suicide (the urging from her peers probably didn’t help either).
One year later five of Laura’s friends are chatting on Skype when they are joined by a malevolent cyber-presence claiming to be Laura. As the friends try to figure out who this person really is, they are manipulated into playing head games with each other.
People are still in the process of figuring out exactly how to use social media in a way that doesn’t come back to haunt them. One off colour joke on twitter can damage a person’s professional prospects and incur the wrath of the public. In this film it was not the victim that foolishly broadcasted herself but her friends. The terrifying lesson here is even if one censors and monitors their activities on social media they can still be humiliated and vilified.
Social media adds a whole new dimension to bullying in high school. One of the comforts of having excruciating experiences in high school is that graduation can bring about the cessation of this misery. However if remnants of embarrassing moments can be found anywhere on the internet then it becomes more difficult to leave behind. During a particularly grueling moment in the film involving a game of ‘I’ve Never’ past mistakes the characters desperately wanted to forget came hurtling back to haunt them thanks to YouTube and social media. Thus the mood of the film quickly degenerated into a ‘kill or be killed’ mentality.
Many sequels will follow, however Unfriended will soon become known as the trailblazer of a new modern genre. The world still doesn’t have clearly defined laws around usage of social media nor does it have effective remedies for when a persons’ privacy and dignity is irrevocably compromised by them. To quote Erica Albright in The Social Network, ‘when you write something on the internet you don’t write it in pencil, you write it in ink.’