As a business model, this is the best horror movie I have ever seen. It apparently cost nothing to produce and in fact, it seems like the conception itself made money before the film even hit theaters. In an MTV Production where every kill is off-screened or shaky-cammed, where virtually 100% of the movie is framed in big-name product placement, where the actors are all unknown teens with very undemanding roles, I imagine the cash flow pre-ticket sales to be somewhere between epic and unimaginable.
The plot is a cross between I Know What You Did Last Summer and Fear.com, featuring a handful of morally dubious teens who collectively LOLed at the gruesome suicide of a cyber-bullied classmate all coming together to Skype and talk shit on the anniversary of her death. Their chat session becomes “haunted” by a paranormal chatroom presence and then the teens are systematically killed while the #poltergeist ROFLs.
I’ll pay the movie another compliment by acknowledging that it the most original flavor of “found footage” that I have seen probably ever. Since The Blair Witch Project, pretty much all FF movies (sex tapes not included) took the same approach with the only innovations being that they were tied to various genres. Monster movie? Cloverfield. Superhero movie? Chronicle. And so forth. Same story frame: Footage is found and played back with all of the grain, shake, and terror. Unfriended is different. The grit and immediacy of FF is there but it is rebooted for the Cell Phone Video Age; you’re not watching video footage found in a dead teenager’s handy-cam, you are watching a Skype session unfold in real time on a teenager’s laptop, with each of the chatters dying off one by one. It was as clever and fresh as a gimmicky twist on a now gimmicky genre can be.
The fun stops there. For all the novelty in the setup, I felt incredibly unentertained for all 88 minutes. I suspect this was because every character was sitting at a desk or laying on a bed for the entire movie. There is a kind of sedentary feel to the whole thing. I never feel like the haunting is “pursuing” the characters, if that makes sense. The deaths are all abrupt with little or no buildup, all off-screen implied kills. The shaky-cam cop out is updated to buffering. It gets fucking old.
I also don’t think the movie is going to age well. Imagine someone made a mediocre (that is being kind) Myspace-based slasher flick ten years ago. It would probably be a joke now. The “skin” that this movie wears is Skype and a bookmarks bar full of Millennial-friendly brand partners. I just see people ironically laughing at this movie a few years from now, un-ironically laughing years after that, and finally sighing dismissively until the end of time.
Ultimately, I’ll give this movie props for trying something inventive with found footage, but when you get past the shtick-ish shell, it is an incredibly cheap and uneventful slasher drone with nothing to offer other than the continued implication that you should download Spotify.