Format: Streaming video from Tubi on Fire!
I am continually thankful for the fact that the internet and social media did not become a thing until I was not merely an adult but an adult with kids. While there is almost certainly some embarrassing things in my Facebook history if I go back far enough, it would be so much worse if it went back to the mid-‘80s when I was in high school. I, and pretty much everyone in my generation, has been saved from unending shame by not having those parts of our lives displayed in public. Knowing that I had a MySpace page means I’ve been on social media for a long time, and I still managed to avoid that. This is relevant for the film Unfriended, which takes place primarily in a Skype call.
Unfriended is not the first movie to take place in an entirely online environment, but it is one of the first to do so. This is a natural progression from found footage. In fact, I would say that the online film is a sort of variation of found footage; the difference is that the footage is computerized and that rather than being found, we’re watching it happen in real time.
In this case, we have a group of high school friends talking over Skype. It starts with couple Blaire (Shelley Hennig) and Mitch (Moses Storm) talking over Skype and teasing each other, bordering on essentially video sex, at least until the rest of their friends show up. These are Jess (Renee Olstead), Adam (Will Peltz), and Ken (Jacob Wysocki). As it happens, a sixth person without a camera shows up as well, using the name billie227. They attempt to get rid of the intruder, but nothing seems to work.
All five suspect another classmate, Val (Courtney Halverson), of pranking them, but when they add her to the chat, she insists that it’s not her. As things continue, it is revealed that this night is the one-year anniversary of the suicide death of a classmate. And as things continue, it comes to light that everyone involved in the call was a part of what happened to that classmate, from filming her in an embarrassing situation to suggesting she kill herself. It’s evident as the evening goes on that these people are actually pretty terrible, and all of them have committed a number of immoral acts against each other and against the original victim. And, of course, the person who has appeared in the Skype call is clearly the spirit of the girl who killed herself, and she is back for revenge with a vengeance.
Ultimately, that’s what this is about--Unfriended is a horror film about cyberbullying. There is certainly a message here, although based on what I know about kids, the possibility of a spectral presence coming back and forcing people do (among other things) drink bleach or shove their hands into a running blender are not going to stop them from acting in terrible ways online.
Bluntly, the message is really the best part of Unfriended. There’s a lot of danger working in an online environment. Mainly, the problem is one of anonymity. One of the running jokes about the Gen-X generation (of which I am an early member) is that we’re not the people to mess with, because if you wanted to insult someone, you had to do it to their face and risk getting hit. When you can be anonymous online, the worst parts of who we are can come out. Lack of consequence will allow us to be the worst part of who we are. That’s the story of Unfriended--a group of people who acted without any fear of consequences are suddenly given consequences in increasingly terrible ways.
It's also worth noting that I’d have been pretty safe in my high school days. My mother once told me that of all of her kids, I was the one she didn’t worry about. My friends and I were always home before curfew (we had jobs), and when we hung out, we were usually playing music. We weren’t the guys who wrecked our friends’ parents’ cars, cheated on our girlfriends with our friends’ girlfriends, or roofied people at parties—all things that come to light in the course of the Skype call. We weren’t drinking at parties; we were playing Rush songs in my friend Mark’s basement. One of my brothers, though, would have been prime angry revenant fodder.
So what does that mean for me? It means I don’t have a great deal of sympathy for these people, and I don’t think I’m supposed to. And for that, Unfriended is surprisingly successful.
Why to watch Unfriended: It’s one of the first films to be presented in an entirely online format.
Why not to watch: It’s wildly predictable.