Unfriended Review: The Blair Witch Project for the 21st Century

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I went into Unfriended after watching It Follows (my review for which can be read here) the week prior expecting absolute trash. What I ended up with was something that was better than I expected, but not as bad as I hoped. It’s a pretty short movie – less than 90 minutes – out of necessity. If it were longer, it would have overstayed its welcome. The plot revolves around a cast of characters in a Skype chat haunted by an evil spirit that forces them to confess their sins. If that sounds like your kind of shindig, then you’re probably a millennial.

As the title says, I think of this as this century’s The Blair Witch Project, except perhaps not matching in quality or originality. It does try to do something somewhat unique, and I will commend it for that. It’s essentially an evolution of the found footage genre, perfectly tailored for this generation.

Spoilers after the jump.

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My thoughts on this movie are few, which isn’t unreasonable. At eighty-three minutes, it is a relatively short movie, so short that we had well over an hour of time to kill until our other group of friends got out of Avengers: Age of Ultron. To be honest, I had pretty low expectations from the start. I went in wanting to watch a bad movie with a few friends, and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 just looked too bad. So we settled on the cheesy horror film with the haunted Skype call as a premise.

And you know what? It’s more or less what I expected. But in some ways, it wasn’t. I didn’t expect to be as captivated as I was, but in the end, I wasn’t exactly scared… at all. There’s some creepy build-up in the beginning as the call goes awry and a mysterious figure using a dead girl’s Skype account joins the chat. Understandingly, this freaks a few of them out, who think it’s simply a glitch or morbid hacker at first. Personally, I think a lot of their reactions are a bit ridiculous even given the strangeness of their situation, but on the other hand, one of the characters needed an explanation as to what a “troll” is.

But over the course of the movie, spooky things start happening. Certain buttons aren’t there. Trying to remove the ghost as a friend doesn’t work. That sort of stuff. All the while, I thought this was kind of cool… but not necessarily scary. When the film finally kicks in proper and the “spooky buildup” part is over with, the core of the film revolves around an evil spirit challenging a group of kids to a twisted game of never have I ever. Each round is meant to expose them for their sins, and their only way to survive is to admit their guilt (before the ghost’s countdown finishes).

It’s really kind of silly because once the main character learns this, any and all hesitation about confessing should be thrown out the window entirely. I get that it’s difficult to admit wrongdoing, especially when it’s extremely heinous or shameful, but the alternative is death. Perhaps this is part of the reason I didn’t find it particularly scary. The basis for the horror is kind of absurd and I simply didn’t care about the characters enough, turning it into a twisted black comedy.

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Like The Blair Witch Project, this film’s saving grace is its unique mode of storytelling. The entire plot is simply the computer screen of the main character, Blaire – most likely named in reference to the aforementioned film. Though it might sound boring, having the main character switch between different windows and applications on her computer does add some much-needed verisimilitude to the movie.

What really makes this work is all of the tiny nuances. She uses a computer like any other teenager would. She deletes what she’s written and re-types a new sentence. She ignores the chat and reads some articles and browses Facebook. None of this is ever really boring or unnecessary filler; they simply use the computer as a means of moving the plot forward and they do so with a strong degree of realism in its own unique way.

All of the characters are shown to be terrible people over the course of the story in one capacity or another, and though it got to be a little unbelievable at some points, it was ultimately kind of satisfying to watch each character die in a different messed up way . From the onset, it’s fairly clear that these terrible teens have absolutely no hope of survival. The ghost has the ability to possess them, which makes their deaths very satisfying to watch. This, combined with the film’s laughable cast (except for Kennington, he’s totally cool) is why I don’t consider this a very good horror movie. It simply isn’t very scary. It is pretty fun, though.

As a movie in general, without thought as to what genre in which it belongs, it was okay. It was an okay movie with some surprisingly neat ideas for the Internet Age. The movie’s overlying theme is cyberbullying which, whilst painfully oversimplified, is still an important topic. There’s even a subtle hint that the victim turned ghost who committed suicide was the victim of sexual abuse (“her uncle….”) or at least abuse in some capacity. Each in their own way, the characters have their own dark secrets that make them seem hypocritical for ever judging her so harshly.

Seeing all of their dirty laundry get aired out was probably the most enjoyable part of the film for me. It also made me realise that this may just be the biggest collection of scumbags I’ve ever seen gathered for a slasher flick. It shows us that, under pressure, these characters are worse than any malevolent spirit. In fact, the most fun part about the film was the slow breakdown of the main character, who ends up not only killing another character but is also revealed to have posted the humiliating video of Laura (later dubbed “Leaky Laura” by the relentless Internet horde). This seems almost uncharacteristic of the otherwise level-headed protagonist, though we do see some glimpses of selfishness.

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Like I said, I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I did, but probably not for the reasons the creators of the film intended me to. Unlike It Follows, which had a pretty darn likeable cast of characters, it was fun watching these characters get killed off. However, fun isn’t something I think you should be having a lot of in a horror film. As an unintentional horror-comedy, it’s all right. Seeing the characters get their comeuppance was admittedly satisfying, especially in the case of one character whose death becomes a meme and Blaire, who’s terrible fate is to be remembered as the villain when Laura’s vengeful spirit posts the full video online, showing everyone that it was Blaire who drove her to suicide. More than anything, it was a pungent reminder of how terrible people can be – especially over the internet – and how much I hate my own generation. It just wasn’t very scary.

But hey, that’s just my Kenpinion.


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