What happened to Laura Barns?
Welcome to Knockout Horror and to a Horror Movie Review. Today we are taking a look at another Screenlife horror movie – Unfriended. Also known as Computer Screen Horror. This is a genre that sort of spun off from found footage. Focusing on characters interacting via webcams or video calls. The Screenlife horror genre has developed a fair bit in recent years.
We have been on a bit of a Screenlife horror frenzy this week. We recently reviewed Ghost Webcam. A similar screenlife horror movie that leaves a lot to be desired. We also checked out the fantastic Host later in the week. Today we are taking a look at one from 2014. Claiming to have had the idea for a similar film all the way back in 1999. Producer Timur Bekmambetov shelved the concept for nearly 15 years. If Unfriended would have seen the light of day back then. It would have preceded genre progenitor The Collingswood Story by a couple of years. Still, as it stands, it never made it to production. Without further ado, let’s take a look.
Unfriended follows the story of a group of high school friends chatting on Skype. The group recently witnessed the suicide of a fellow classmate. After an embarrassing video of her made its way to the internet. Laura Barns suffered relentless bullying, resulting in her taking her own life. Since then, classmates and friends have been mourning her. While on a video chat. Bailey and her friends are repeatedly harassed over the period of a few hours by an unknown stranger. Could it have something to do with Laura? The group are soon to find out.
Much like the very similar, lockdown based, screenlife horror Host from 2020. Unfriended is a fairly self contained story taking place over one night. A group of friends are chatting on the net when someone appears. The friends attempt to rid the chat of the person. Seemingly aggravating them in the process. A bunch of stuff happens. The friends try to solve the mystery and people die. It’s all pretty basic stuff.
At times it feels like a point and click mystery crime game. Presenting clues and video clips to link the story together. Establishing the framework of a story early. Only to add layer upon layer as time goes on. Unfriended is a product of the limitations of the medium, however. Something that most screenlife horror movies tend to fall foul of. There are only so many ways to build on the story. And only so many ways to create scares.
The medium itself is both a help and a hindrance to Unfriended. It isn’t at the core of the movie’s problems, though. That comes down to bland writing and a slightly boring story. A rather unlikeable cast of characters spend a great deal of time bickering. While this goes on. We see instant messenger conversations, search engine queries and social media chats. A mysterious entity interferes with the group’s devices. Interjecting into conversations and manipulating microphones like a master hacker.
It is everything you would expect from the genre. Still, as I mentioned in my Ghost Webcam review. The screenlife genre still feels fairly fresh. It is an interesting take on found footage and still quite novel. There are plenty of places that Unfriended can be criticised. The presentation, however, isn’t really one of them.
Despite the novelty of it all, however. Screenlife horror does come with its own set of issue. The presentation can get old pretty quickly. The limited locations rob the movie of chances for interesting scene setting. The picture can become rather stale. Character interactions can start to feel overwhelming. Hitting you in the face with a wall of noise. There is a limited scope for scares and tension can be fairly difficult to find. All of these things are problems for Unfriended. It is a slave to its computer screen trappings, after all. None of these issues are particularly damaging, however.
I think it is fair to say that the screenlife presentation is what will keep people watching. It elevates the movie from standard, boring horror. To something that feels a little more fresh, a little more interesting. Unfriended is guilty of a number of horror sins. Plot holes, tired and worn out tropes, annoying characters, a loose plot. On top of that, it really doesn’t do anything particularly different. If it was a standard horror. Most people wouldn’t make it past the first 15 minutes. The absolutely awful Friend Request is a great example of what this movie would be as a standard horror.
It is the lesser seen style of portraying events that keeps you engaged. The use of messages and web searches as story exposition feels novel. Private instant messages between characters offers a sense of intrigue. The focus on the consequences of online harassment. As well as the damage done by an always online generation still feels pertinent. The story is just as relevant today. The screenlife style is, perhaps, the best way to portray this.
The slow drip feeding of information helps the story flow nicely. It feels fairly self contained and easy to follow. The rapidly degrading nature of the group’s relationship ups the tension. Secrets are revealed and bonds broken. We learn more about the group and watch them come apart. It can be pretty interesting stuff. The fact that the group are so unlikeable ends up fitting the story quite well. If nothing else, Unfriended doesn’t feel overly familiar as so many horror movies do.
With the above being said. This is still a movie with a whole bunch of issues. Unfriended is run of the mill stuff. The story is played out. You have seen this all before. It is predictable and keen to play to type. Characters are annoying, conversations are frustrating. There are plot holes everywhere and nothing makes a lot of sense. For all of its praise worthy elements. It just doesn’t bring much new to the table. There are never any moments of serious suspense. The cast are far too unlikeable to buy into their situations. They are cliched to an almost ridiculous degree. They react how you might expect and there are no surprises.
Scares are non-existent. Kills feel cheap and a bit silly. The film spends far too much time setting the scene. It takes a very long time to get going. It can be very middling and not that interesting. Scenes where the group’s relationship starts to really come apart are fun. A drinking game played during the middle sends everything into chaos. Offering some genuinely decent moments of story exposition. Only for the movie to then fizzle out rather anti-climatically.
It’s a bit disappointing. Whereas one might be tempted to blame the screenlife style. As mentioned above, I actually think it benefits the movie. Screenlife horror can be very effective. Just look at Searching and The Collingswood Story. Unfriended is just a bit of an average movie. For everywhere it deserves praise. There is an equal area that it deserves criticism. That doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a fairly easy watch, though. It isn’t too demanding and might just scratch an itch for something different.
Acting is fine. There is distinct sense that the actors here were supposed to improvise. Likely given bullet points and told to react as they see fit. Shelley Hennig carries most of the drama as Blaire. She does a really decent job and is convincing. I really enjoyed Renee Olstead’s performance as Jess. Her moments of fear and panic are extremely believable. It’s fun to watch her realistic and well timed reactions to what is happening.
Will Peltz, as Adam, is a bit over the top. I think much of this is down to his character type, though. Moses Storm, as Mitch, is fine for the most part. Jacob Wysocki doesn’t have a tremendous amount to work with. His character is little more than a stereotype. He does okay, though.
Pacing is a bit mixed. The movie starts off very slowly. It really picks up toward the end before sagging in the final ten minutes. There are some goofs here and there. All fairly noticeable and showing a distinct lack of care in production and editing. Something that is all the more noteworthy given how easy this movie would be to edit. Camera quality is a big problem. Cameras glitch out constantly and it is tremendously annoying. Obviously it is deliberate but I hated it. Sound is another issue. You are constantly being bombarded by noise. Mainly due to people shouting all the damn time. It doesn’t add anything to the film other than annoyance.
Unfriended is a screenlife horror movie with a plot that feels relevant even more so today. Focusing on themes of bullying and online harassment. Its novel approach to horror still feels interesting and quirky. While lacking in tension and scares. The interactions between characters can be quite interesting. The slow drip feeding of information helps keep you engaged, as well.
Still, this is a movie with a lot of issues. A slow start, continuity problems and many plot holes are just some of them. An unlikeable cast makes it difficult to invest and the movie lacks atmosphere. The screenlife medium still feels fresh. But it comes at cost bringing its own set of issues. Despite this, it can be an enjoyable movie. If you are looking for something different. Unfriended is a decent option that is worth a watch.