In a world full of prank videos that make kids “Internet famous,” it seems ridiculous that a group of high schoolers would completely freak out when their Skype chat goes horribly wrong. Then again, American society often underestimates the digital savviness of students for one simple reason — they don’t understand all the intricacies of life on social media. Levan Gabriadze’s Unfriended has plenty of flaws, but the stream-of-consciousness social media experience makes the 80-minute film a hypnotic treat.
Opening on a rather disturbing note, the innocent Blaire (Shelley Hennig) watches footage of her friend taking her own life. But there’s no reaction shot — the girl continues to click away, as the audience shares a screen in real time. By allowing viewers to witness the act of clicking — each and every stroke — Unfriended acknowledges its gimmick and brilliantly embraces it. Once Blaire connects with her friends on Skype, she’s caught up in a whirlwind of windows, emotions and a frenetic energy that can, in fact, make one completely frazzled. Unfortunately, the Skype session turns deadly for the gang of Fresno screwballs.
Written by Nelson Greaves, Unfriended succeeds by capitalizing on anticipation. As secrets are revealed, Blaire frantically checks Facebook, private chats and e-mail, while the sounds of her Skype session remind of a multi-faceted connection to real-time events. When a mysterious user shows up and Val (Renee Olstead) disappears from view, Blaire scours the Internet for information and almost googles the phrase “Val seizures.” She’s so caught up in the experience that her stream-of-consciousness takes over, which I found utterly fascinating.
Despite a solid cast and exceptional pacing, there’s plenty of distracting moments in Unfriended. What 18-year-old doesn’t know what a “troll” is? Unbelievably, Blaire asks her friends to explain the term. This is the same girl juggling Skype, Spotify, Facebook, e-mail, private chats and reflecting on the suicide of her friend, who was “trolled” to death. Of course, not all viewers spend their lives on the web, but Greaves could have found a better way to address the topic. Incidentally, when everything goes completely haywire, Blaire resorts to a random video chat website, “Chatroulette,” for help. There’s surely more practical ways of contacting a single human being for assistance, but the freaked out beauty is deep into “the zone.” She can’t escape the Internet.
Much like David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, the cast of Unfriended delivers remarkable performances. While Shelley Hennig, a former Miss Teen USA and star of MTV’s “Teen Wolf,” is clearly the standout performer, the supporting staff of Will Peltz, Renee Olstead, Courtney Halvorson, Moses Jacob Storm and Jacob Wysocki all hold their own. Once the teenagers come to grips with the horrible truth, each polished actor has their moment to shine, and it’s fun to watch.
Unfriended intelligently explores the act of clicking and how those split-second decisions can change everything. “Never Have I Ever” been more intrigued by Spotify’s appearance in a feature film.
Q.V. Hough (@qvhough) is a freelance writer and founder of Vague Visages. He lived in Hollywood, California from 2006 to 2012 and has bachelor degrees in Communication-Mass Media and History. He now resides in Fargo, North Dakota.
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