Presented with a batch of uninspiring horror trailers in the previews running before Unfriended – namely the Poltergeist remake, Insidious: Chapter 3 and The Gallows – I tried to remain hopeful that Unfriended would deliver something new. And I must say, I was left immensely satisfied.
Thinking back on it, I have seen a short set entirely on a computer screen, but Unfriended really feels like something fresh.
The real time screen capture ‘gimmick’ totally works and it feels chillingly normal to follow the lead character, Blaire (Shelley Hennig), browsing her laptop.
One important distinction to be made between this and Noah, the aforementioned short, is the fact that Noah uses zooms, pans and tilts to focus in on certain areas of the screen, whereas Levan Gabriadze (Unfriended’s director) opts for a still ‘camera’, full screen image. Which turns out to be an excellent call as, looking back on Noah, the action feels boxed-in and forced.
Noah’s two directors make the conscious choice to actively guide us through the action, whereas Gabriadze remains refreshingly unobtrusive. And while he uses the mouse to draw the eye beautifully, we’re always given the freedom to explore the frame. During the tensest moments, there is something truly disconcerting about having the opportunity to look elsewhere, yet always finding oneself drifting back to that doomed internal frame.
While the scare count may seem lacking compared to the ‘quiet, quiet, quiet, bang!’ horror hits of recent years, when the chills do arrive, they deliver a healthy dose of grisly thrills.
*Minor SPOILERS follow*
Nothing too heinous, but I’ll just say I wouldn’t want to go into the movie having read these next few paragraphs.
People often lament movie endings that aim for that last twist/turn/scare/gag, saying ‘oh, if only they’d cut the last thirty seconds’. I remember saying just that about one of the final scenes of The Dark Knight Rises and, more recently, Kingsman: The Secret Service could have scrapped a good minute or two, quite frankly.
The last frame shocker has long been a staple of the horror genre (Carrie and Friday the 13th being the standouts, for me), and Unfriended pulls a similar trick. But I’d already decided the film should have ended a few seconds prior with a quietly effective reaction shot. That somewhat ambiguous ending would’ve stood as a powerful reminder of the film’s central theme of online bullying, and the cyclical nature of revenge.
But, that wasn’t what we were given. Instead, we’re left with a decidedly less subtle (but brilliantly crafted) jump scare. It may sound like a cop out, but it’s a directorial choice that really grew on me. As the credits roll, the lasting emotional response may not be one of dread, but isn’t a heart-stopper just as fun?
Unfriended is an excellent concept delivered upon brilliantly by star director Levan Gabriadze and his fab team of editors. A sequel’s already in the works, and I’ll certainly be first in line.