Sunday, 3 May 2015

Review: Unfriended

World of Blackout Film Review

Unfriended Poster

Cert: 15 / 83 mins / Dir. Levan Gabriadze / Trailer
WoB Rating: 5/7

I was annoyed, to begin with. Most modern horror movies (and especially ones of the 'found footage' sub-genre) see me entering the cinema in a state of pre-annoyance, just to save me the effort of ramping it up during the first ten minutes of the film. This isn't what I want, you understand, it's something that experience has burned into me. Whether it's an inexplicably inappropriate doll that doesn't freak anyone out until it starts moving despite looking like an object collected at the site of a car crash, someone fucking about with a ouija-board who's clearly not in the best psychological shape to begin with, or just characters explaining exactly how and why everything's being filmed, there's some level of unrealistic or exaggerated inconsistency to annoy me with the genre I used to love. Most horror films already have that hurdle of prejudice to clear as far as I go.

So the BBFC card exits the screen and the mock bandwidth-pixellation of the Universal ident tells the audience that the next hour-and-a-third is going to be heavily stylised. What the bass-vibration in my seat told me, however, was also that the film was going to be too loud. Not 'action' loud, or 'scary-jump' loud. Just too fucking loud. All of the time. So that annoyed me, too. Well, I thought. this is going to be fun.

After a vindictively embarrassing video of high-school student Laura Barns is posted online, she takes her own life - an act which is also recorded and uploaded. Set exactly one year later, Unfriended is a story told through the window of a single laptop screen (incorporating Skype, Facebook, YouTube, ChatRoulette, Instagram, Spotify and Google*1), as six of her friends have an online video chat, and are joined by what appears to be their deceased friend. Laura it seems, has a score or six to settle. Unfolding in uninterrupted real-time over the film's 83 minutes, secrets are revealed, confessions are made and friendships are severed. Permanently.

It sounds dreadful, doesn't it? Hell, I watched the trailer and thought it looked dreadful, too. But credit where it's due, the film surpassed my (admittedly low) expectations. This isn't really a film that you can cut into a trailer while retaining the unique-selling-point. The movie's content itself it pretty standard-fare, but what sets Unfriended apart is the way it's assembled, switching between the text-based messaging of Facebook, G-Mail and iMessage, and the video-calling of Skype. The only voices you hear and faces you see are those that Laura's best friend Blaire has on her computer. Everything else is the tapping of keys and CMD-TABbing of applications as she talks publicly with the group, privately with her boyfriend and attempts to figure out who's pretending to be Laura. The dialogue-free text-based sections of the film really make the audience work in terms of concentration, and are arguably far more nuanced than the actual screen-acting. I wouldn't normally be one to say that certain types of film aren't for the older generation, but it really should be noted that if a viewer doesn't know their way around social media in 2015, they're going to struggle with the structure of the movie.

Supernatural forces are at play, but the script never feels the need to over-explain them, which works in its favour. The seedy threads of the story unravel further as each webcam blinks out, like in any good haunted-house-murder-movie, and while I didn't absolutely love the film, (and here comes that word), it's a really interesting piece of work and I have to admire its adaptation of the format. Basically, Theatre Of Blood for the kids; a morality tale for the generation whose morality society doesn't understand (although has it ever?).

But it did leave me with one nagging and unresolved question: These kids have got the bandwidth to have a mostly seamless seven-way video conversation, but a photo attachment of less than 1mb takes 20 seconds to download? And I was believing it up until that point…

Whether the film is style-over-content will be a source of debate, but you'll either be completely fascinated by Unfriended, or supremely irritated. Possibly both.

And it's too loud.

Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?
Not necessarily, but you'll be better off seeing it on a massive screen like your local cinema because the on-screen typed messages will be a pain in the arse to read on your television.

Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?
It's a rental, to be fair; there are probably no more than a few watches in it.

Does this film represent the best work of the leading performer(s)?
With the bulk of the cast's work being in television they're pretty much unknown to me, but they do a pretty good job as the film goes on, yeah.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does indeed.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I won't.

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
Unfriended stars Heather Sossaman, who appeared in a 1998 episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer alongside Sarah Michelle Gellar of course, who will be voicing an as-yet-unnamed character in season two of Star Wars: Rebels.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 While the closed sets and very sporadic effects work would suggest a low-budget feature, you get the impression that the clearance deals for the various social media platforms took up most of the film's funding. Fair play to them for pulling that off though, because the film wouldn't work at all without the branding of the platforms. Few things irk me more than a search-engine in a film with the banner reading "S E A R C H !", laid out in multi-coloured letters to suggest Google, no doubt pushed through by a producer who didn't want to pay for clearance saying "it's okay, nobody will notice".

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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