SXSW Movie Review: Unfriended

Published on March 27th, 2015 in: Current Faves, Film Festivals, Found Footage, Horror, Movie Reviews, Movies, Reviews, Science and Technology |

By Brad Henderson

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Please Note: This review was written after seeing an unfinished version of the film during SXSW on March 13, 2015.

It seems that computer screen horror is catching on rather quickly and I’m not sure how I feel about it. In the past couple years we’ve had The Den and Open Windows; in both films the actions is presented through a computer screen. The Den worked to an extent and was creative for the most part, but Open Windows didn’t work out because it was so silly. . . well, to me anyway.

Unfriended has the same presentation but it works. Like Open Windows, it runs in real time and that’s one of the main things that works. Our story is told through a Skype chat between five friends who hold a secret. During one of their chats they are introduced to another visitor. They are unsure who this person is and try to get rid of this unknown entity, but remain unsuccessful despite multiple attempts. Soon they realize this person may be someone that they know from their past who is dead set on terrorizing them.

Yes, I repeat, the entirety of the film is told through a computer screen but don’t let that turn you off. It’s actually executed very well and is just as tense as anything else you’ve seen. It’s crazy to me that the film is able to hold your attention the entire time using this method but it does. Another thing that Unfriended does very well is represent teenagers and their lingo which a lot of films don’t succeed at, often making the characters sound like middle-aged adults instead .

Unlike most found footage films, Unfriended spends more time being eerie and haunting rather than using jump scares. It spends more time building that sense of dread once this unwanted presence introduces itself and slowly starts to “stalk” our teens. Dread is an aspect that even non-found footage horror films forget and it’s depressing. Nothing is scarier than waiting for something awful to happen and Unfriended feels like that for most of the film. That alone makes it more original than most of the things we see today, especially found footage films, which often just wait forever to get to the point or show what is really going on.

Unfriended uses its running time wisely in order to execute this set up almost perfectly. I say “almost” because there is one sequence in the film involving Chatroulette which I thought was ridiculous. It almost lost me, but luckily they don’t dwell on it too long. After that minor detour they get back on track to one of the more haunting found footage films that I’ve seen.

I’m excited to hear responses from others as to how effective they found this simple format. You need to up the bar quite a bit whenever you approach found footage filmmaking because everyone considers it cheap or just plain boring. I can assure you Unfriended is not boring at all once you actually get into the film. It’s a new and fresh attempt at telling a story through a computer screen.

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