Norton cannot save you now



By Office Assistant

Making a found-footage film is a surefire cheap way to scare the pants off of an audience and simultaneously irritate those of us who are sickened by the very notion of shaky-cam. “Unfriended” seeks to avoid those pitfalls by introducing a stationary perspective: your computer screen. This horror film sets lofty goals in an attempt to revolutionize the genre altogether. 

Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions, the company responsible for financing hit franchises including “Paranormal Activity,” “The Purge” and “Insidious”, produced “Unfriended”. The budgets for these types of movies are dwarfed by today’s standards for the average comedy let alone action blockbusters, frequently figuring in at less than $5 million. Directed by Georgian director Levan Gabriadze in his American debut, “Unfriended” succeeds in updating the status quo for supernatural horror, but does it achieve what it boldly set out for, creating a new genre by pandering to tech-savvy millennials?

A low budget cast—featuring Shelley Hennig (“Teen Wolf”)—plays a group of six teenagers who agree to chat via Skype on the one-year anniversary of fellow high-schooler Laura Barns’ suicide. The teens slowly realize that something is awry when a mystery guest is present in their conversation and is logged in on Laura’s former account. Viewers watch the events unfold through the screen of the laptop used by Blaire (Hennig), one of Laura’s childhood friends. Unfortunately for this group of friends, Laura has some huge grievances against them—it turns out she was persuaded to end her own life as a direct result of their cyberbullying. 

What follows is a hodgepodge of different horror formulas blended in such a way as to be incredibly predictable yet thoroughly entertaining nonetheless. The jump scares are not as gratuitous as they could have been, and there are expertly crafted moments of suspense unlike anything that has ever been seen in a horror film before. For example, more tension has never been based on whether a character sends a Facebook message. Credit is undeniably due to sound designer Paul Berolzheimer for subtly ramping up suspense with electronic white-noise effects layered over the audio from Blaire’s computer. Otherwise, the audience’s experience is 100 percent diegetic, with audio and visuals strictly limited to the laptop’s perspective through the use of various applications—even the soundtrack is played through Spotify.

Though some deaths are particularly gruesome, they were not the focus of the film. However, the tense psychological sequences in between the deaths were. While the plot was unsurprising, there was something special about watching people perform menial tasks on the computer, especially under pressure. The characters’ techy fumbling elicited countless laughs. Whether this was intentional does not matter because it’s this quality that made the film fresh and enjoyable. The audience isn’t necessarily meant to identify with any character: they’re all foolish and flawed for one reason or another. The point is there is an unusual air of levity that keeps the plot from becoming boring and tedious.

“Unfriended” is bold in forging new ground stylistically, but the attempts at serious dialogue are laughable—it seemed the tech lingo was largely dumbed down for the sake of the older viewers. Although it was condescendingly aimed at the tech-savvy, this movie confirms your grandma’s suspicions that young folks spend too much time on their phones and laptops.

Is this the first in a new rash of flicks to be the “techsploitation” genre? Possibly, as there are already rumblings of a sequel, according to Gabriadze. By no means does this redefine the horror genre as a whole, but it is an inevitable and interesting stint into the cyber dimension that is somewhat different, at least for the time being.