Unfriended (2014)

Online, your memories last forever. But so do your mistakes.

Writer: Nelson Greaves
Director: Levan Gabriadze

Unfriended (originally titled Cybernatural) is an unusual film, possibly to the extent of deserving the adjective ‘experimental’. You’re likely to either love it or hate it depending on how much time you spend staring at a computer screen.

The story is simple: a college student by the name of Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman) committed suicide after embarrassing video of her was uploaded to YouTube. A year later a number of her friends are having a video chat when an uninvited user joins the conversation. This unknown user is, of course, Laura out for revenge. The details are never made clear but in her dead state she is ‘haunting’ the technology and can take control of it. She also knows all the other kids’ secrets…

It’s a fairly light revenge plot that we’ve seen before a hundred times, brought up to date with the cyber-bullying element. What makes this different is the presentation: the whole movie (except for one final shot) is seen via the screen on the laptop of one of the characters. It’s sort of found footage but not really, and without the shaky camerawork that usually accompanies that subgenre.

What we get is a collection of webcam feeds, Facebook messages, YouTube videos, Google searches etc etc. All the stuff that you’d expect on the screen of modern young people capable of multi-tasking and holding several conversations at once. And, of course, Laura joins in the fun.

Even more unusual is that (thanks to some clever editing) the whole film is presented as if it were a single shot, the events unfolding in real time as we watch. So whereas webcam feeds tend to depersonalise, the real time aspect compensates and draws you in.

A result of this ‘screen grab’ approach is that a lot of what you expect from a movie simply isn’t relevant to Unfriended. Cinematography is severely limited, most of the screen is static for much of the time and there’s no background music apart from the occasional track being streamed.

Potentially even more off-putting to some people is that to keep up with the story it’s not enough to watch and listen you actually have to read (gasp!).

The movie is clearly aimed at people who use this technology as a matter of course (even if one of the characters does rather unbelievably have to ask “What’s a troll?”). It’s one of the few films that’s probably better watched at home rather than on a large screen at a cinema. Some people will find the style off-putting, personally I found it wonderfully engaging – sufficiently so that I was able to ignore the technological goofs and meagre story.