‘Unfriended’ Uses Social Media Conventions for Scares

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore, Flickr

“Unfriended” is rather successful in telling a new age ghost story for a generation of cyber gurus. On the other hand, the film is weighed down by a plot that remains passive and boring. As a horror film, it devotes a lot of time and effort into sluggish buildups and a few harsh, morbid deaths.

In “Unfriended,” Laura Barnes (Heather Sossaman) is a young teenage girl who commits a brutal and public suicide following a worrisome and embarrassing video of her posted online, turning her into a social outsider. After her death, Laura’s old friends Blaire (Shelley Hennig), Jess (Renee Olstead), Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm), Adam (Will Petz), Val (Courtney Halverson) and Ken (Jacob Mysocki) all participate in a nightly Skype call. However, on this particular night they find that their conversation is being interrupted by an unusual digital trespasser.

Proclaiming itself as the ghost of Barnes, the intruder begins to wield ghastly supernatural powers over the group through the Skype call. The ghost plans ruthless games to get the friends to admit their secrets to their clique, to make them experience the pain, embarrassment and possibly even death that Laura had suffered.

Levan Gabriadze, a newcomer to directing, does an admirable job with the movie’s unique stylistic design, mimicking the surroundings of an average teen social life through digital media. The film, however, barely stays together, given how fixed the concept proves to be due to the fact that the entire story is told through webcams and computer screens. Despite that, the actors still manage to get in a few well-thought-out scares using this format, which kept audiences quite frightened by the very believable computer glitches (log ins/offs, changing windows/screens, iTunes music stopping by itself etc.)

The movie came across as an hour and a half long advertisement for programs like Skype, Facebook and even Apple. Despite the shoutouts to various apps running youth culture, the film managed to pull through with scary scenarios and death scenes that were gruesome, eerie and disturbing. “Unfriended” consistantly bombards the viewer with scenes of violence, sex, espionage and consumption.

The cast of unknown actors are good but not great. They manage to hold your attention through the surplus amount of webcam banter. Unfortunately, the characters they play are in no way, shape or form endearing or relatable, in fact, most of them should have been killed off early on in the film to make things more interesting.

Hennig, Peltz and Storm are given classic character arcs, and each have characteristics suitable in their own right. However, they come off as flat and very stereotypical to the horror genre. Halverson, Olstead and Wysocki have even less substance than the other poorly-written characters. Then there is Sossaman, whose scenes are gross, disturbing and downright irritating. 

Nelson Greaves, who wrote the screenplay, does an applause-worthy job of creating a modern ghost story that actually accomplishes what a good horror flick should: telling a metamorphic tale about life, mortality and friendship. In a way, the film is almost like a campfire ghost story that lasts an extremely long time.