REVIEW: Unfriended (2015)

"LOL bro you are like totally dying right now! OMG!"

“LOL bro you are like totally dying right now! OMG!”

Unfriended: C-

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, 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.

REVIEW: It Follows (2014)


It Follows: A+

This is the scariest movie I have seen in a long time. Even if you have little problems with the bold styling of the film, you have to give it credit for keeping you in a constant state of dread from beginning to end. I am trying to remember the last time a film had me searching every detail in the frame as intensely as I did with this one.

Everyone wants to talk about is the soundtrack, so let’s do it: The soundtrack is killer. It’s virtually all synths that will immediately endear the movie to John Carpenter fans and any viewer with a soft spot for 70s-80s horror films. It’s a meticulous refurbishing of the same beloved sounds that were the backdrop for decades of horror movies. I still have the end credits’ song stuck in my head.

Strangely, the best moments in the soundtrack are the monotonous arpeggiating Carpenterian ones because they parallel the film’s monster, who can only walk very, very slowly in a straight line. It’s a shapeshifting ghost that is always walking in your direction. There is no origin story; if it catches you, it kills you in the worst way and no one knows why. The movie opens with a graphic demonstration of this and then shifts to a group of lazy suburban teens who get tangled up in the following. The only way to lose the curse is to “pay it forward” through sexual intercourse. Then the ghost follows whomever you banged. The ever-problematic horror movie teenage sex drive is now actually a relevant plot device instead of a thoughtlessly inserted slasher trope.

You can walk, run, or drive away, but the ghost will just steadily walk to wherever you are, disguised as a friend or family member, hungry to fuck you up. This is what had me searching every shot. Is that guy in the background walking slowly toward the protagonist? What about her? Is she acting weird? What was that little shadow in the back corner? I was so involved in the terror of the movie I completely forgot I was in the theater.

There are nods to 70’s and 80’s horror in ways I have never seen. The soundtrack is one thing, but the movie takes other horror totems and cleverly repackages them. The time period is ambiguous; maybe it’s in the 80’s, maybe not. There are some new cars, but no cell phones. It feels like the same era as Monster Squad and Lost Boys, but you know it isn’t. I mention these two movies because the terrorized teens in It Follows form a sort of fellowship where they try to analyze and defeat the ghost. There are boobietraps and everything.

The idea that teen sex is tied to horrific death is a tired convention of slasher flicks at this point. We all know that Jason is going to come eviscerate whichever teens are bragging the loudest about boning. But in It Follows, sex can literally be used to assign certain death to other characters and the protagonist is not a chaste bookworm who gets an advantage through abstinence. Now, she has an incentive to have the same thoughtless sex that was taboo for 50 years of horror movies. The thing we have been taught to dread takes on a new dimension.

I can’t say much more without giving up certain scenes/twists, but this is one you have to see…