UNFRIENDED | © 2015 Universal Studios

UNFRIENDED | © 2015 Universal Studios

Rating: R
Stars:
Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson, Heather Sossaman
Writer:
Nelson Greaves
Director:
Levan Gabriadze
Distributor:
Universal
Release Date:
April 17, 2015

There is nothing new about vengeful ghosts, but there is certainly novelty in setting a horror story entirely in a multi-person Skype/Facebook chat, which is the case in UNFRIENDED. Apparently unworried that its users may be too creeped out to continue to use the social media site after seeing the film, Facebook has allowed its features to show up prominently here, as do YouTube, Google and a number of other real-life companies. This provides a welcome jolt of a lifelike environment – and, let’s face it, most people spend enough time online for this to qualify as “environment.”

Laura (Heather Sossaman), a teenager in Fresno, California, commits suicide after someone posts an embarrassing video of her, which is followed by a torrent of online bullying.

A year after Laura’s death, sweethearts Blaire (Shelley Hennig) and Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm) are engaging in some video-chat foreplay when they are joined online by an unknown party. Whoever it is claims to be Laura, which Blaire thinks is in very poor taste. Four other friends join the chat, but “Laura” won’t leave. Soon enough, things start to get creepy and out of control.

It’s no accident that Jason Blum, who also produced the original PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (and its sequels), is executive producer here. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY found a way to use technology to put a new spin on supernatural horror, and it’s the same with UNFRIENDED. There are aspects of the film that are ingenious, especially in how the computer chat tech allows everyone to be on screen and in communication, yet still actually isolated from any physical help/reassurance a group might normally afford. One problem in horror movies is that generally, the characters need to be alone for us to feel they’re truly in danger; UNFRIENDED solves this handily.

UNFRIENDED has its flaws, one being that the more we know about the characters, the more we think that the ghost has a point. This could be what the movie is going for – most pop horror movies have laughs as well as screams – but the levels of bad behavior and hysteria definitely invite giggles.

Given that the springboard for the movie is online bullying, it’s perhaps not great to suggest to the target audience that a) everybody does it (really? Okay, the Earth is doomed) and b) that the best response is to fight fire with napalm.

Hennig is good as our mostly sympathetic point of view character, Storm makes for a solid nice-guy boyfriend and Jacob Wysocki adeptly plays the mostly unobjectionable tech geek of the group. Art direction and technical credits are good, with a special shout-out merited for the way the Skype cameras’ “ghosting” is used for deliberately creepy purposes.

One more thing UNFRIENDED does right is earn its R rating. While it’s hardly a nonstop bloodbath, there are jolts of gory violence that provide worthy horror punch, and the dialogue is naturalistic in its use of hard slang.

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