There have already been a few unsuccessful attempts to marry the fright movie to the world of social media – Chatroom (2010) springs to mind, or last year’s low budget offering, Open Window – but Unfriended is the first film to really understand how the medium actually works and to exploit it to maximum effect. The film’s events are completely confined to the screen of a computer and the interconnected Skype calls of five young friends who find themselves being trolled by a sixth, initially unidentified caller. Whoever it is seems intent on carrying out an ever more vicious revenge for something the others have all been involved in. Could the trolling have anything to do with the first anniversary of the suicide of Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman) a young woman who killed herself after a humiliating film of her drunken indiscretions was publicly aired on Facebook? It’s in no way a spoiler to say, yes, it could, big time.
Considering the restrictions of the staging, Unfriended manages to generate almost unbearable levels of tension, often in the most unexpected ways – the time, for instance, it takes for an emailed link to download, or the way in which characters, composing text messages, repeatedly edit themselves before pressing send. The young cast of unknowns do a pretty good job of convincing us that they are genuinely terrified. As events move from the explicable to the paranormal, there’s plenty of stylish chills to enjoy, despite the film’s 15 certificate. Some of the (admittedly fleeting) gore effects surely challenge that categorisation, but maybe I’m being picky. The film certainly isn’t for everyone. There were a few mid-movie walkouts at the screening I attended and a row of kids sitting behind us, seemed to think it was fine to chatter all the way through it, just as they would if they were on social media themselves. Maybe they don’t get out much.
Unfriended is a valuable addition to the horror genre, much more satisfying that the majority of found-footage, shaky cam offerings that have arrived, seemingly relentlessly, in the wake of the seminal Blair Witch Project. But be warned. This film could put the more nervous viewer off using social media for life.