Unfriended – Review by Christian Robshaw

Christian Robshaw sits down with the often impressive Unfriended


Found footage is a dying trend in 21st Century horror, and good riddance to it. It’s ugly, distracting, contrived, and somehow, from Blair Witch through Paranormal Activity to Cloverfield, the protagonists are unlikeable even as characters in horror films go. Fortunately though, Unfriended isn’t a found footage at all, because this isn’t “footage” and nobody’s “finding” it. Instead, the whole film is a live, real-time transcript of a single laptop screen over eighty minutes. Whether that sounds impossibly dull or quite intriguing might well depend on your age and/or your familiarity with applications such as Skype, Facebook, YouTube, and Google, because while the tension often depends on systems not working how they should, the script is usually too busy being tense and tight to fuss with exposition, though a character does need both the concept of “trolling” and the drinking game “Never Have I Ever” explained to her. What kind of teen is she?

Like all of the teens we see in this film, she’s the bad kind. Some may come off more likable than others, but they’re all bad eggs who bully, lie, cheat, and continue to call themselves good people at heart. Luckily, what seems to be the ghost of their friend Laura, who killed herself as a result of their cyberbullying a year ago today, and may herself have been a bit of a bully while she lived, is on hand to tear their group apart both emotionally and literally.

To those having trouble picturing how the film even works, we’re looking at the laptop of one of these teens, Blaire. Blaire, as a child of her generation, is adept at multitasking: she has Facebook open (of course), she’s using Skype to call her friends, she has a tab open for watching episodes of Teen Wolf (probably intrigued by how much she resembles the character of Malia Tate on that programme), she wants to know the meaning behind Johnny Cash’s song “Spiritual” (joke’s on her: he didn’t write it, the 90s band Spain did), she’s listening to her “rando” playlist on Spotify, and she even has an album of kitty pics, though sadly she never opens it. The first sign that something’s up is the appearance of a silent member with no profile picture in their Skype session, and things get weirder from there. What we see, then, when Skype isn’t the active tab as it is through most of the film, is Blaire minimising various windows, using an IM service to privately express her unease to her boyfriend, frantically Googling “dead friend facebook account”, and so on. When Skype isn’t open, we can’t see our main character, or any character at all, which is quite daring, though Blaire’s cursor sometimes functions like an avatar; we can almost read her thoughts by what she moves it towards, when she’s decisive, when she can’t make up her mind, when she just waves it around out of frustration. A similarly clever touch is being able to see the things that Blaire types out, re-types, and ultimately never clicks “Send”. It is quite amazing the degree of emotional intimacy afforded by watching someone’s laptop over their shoulder, as it were.

Despite all of this smart use of a gimmick, the film wouldn’t be entertaining at all if it weren’t carried by strong performances; but then, it is. Our six Skypers shot the film as a single long take, using GoPros as webcams, in different rooms of the same house, and it must have been an exhausting experience for all of them, especially since it means no hiding a weak performance behind smart editing or good scoring choices.

After all this praise, however, it stands to reason that the film isn’t exactly perfect. It has a title that doesn’t really describe what it’s about very well. Actually, Unfriended would have been a better title for The Social Network than The Social Network, though it’s a better title for Unfriended than its awful initial release title, Cybernatural. Its plot, while gripping in the moment, barely stands up to scrutiny once the film is over, and while the dread that leads up to each death is nice, the deaths themselves are a little childish, touched with the dull strive for creativity that afflicts weak slasher films. By far the scariest death is the one that’s only implied, the one that isn’t violent. It’s a shame also that the creators felt the need for a Carrie-esque final scare that really ruins the mood of the otherwise strong ending.

But if the movie doesn’t transcend the Dead Teenager genre, it may well reinvent it. The first film of its kind, Unfriended is guaranteed not to be the last, with a sequel already greenlit; and if it doesn’t quite deal with its cyberbullying theme with the depth one might have hoped for, it must be said that it’s never once boring, and maybe that’s the most important thing.

So do you plan on seeing Unfriended? Have you already seen it? Be sure to let us know all about it in the comment box below and be sure to visit Christian Robshaw’s site Mediocre Batman!

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18 comments

  1. Great review – but a couple of points needed;

    I wouldn’t say it is the first film of it’s kind. It stole the idea from ‘The Upper Footage’ and ripped off the presentation from ‘The Den’.

    Justin Cole spoke out about how The Upper Footage was ripped off; https://www.facebook.com/JustinColeUpper/posts/765679580213590

    And in terms of presentation, you only have to watch The Den to realise they are almost exactly the same.

    1. A lot of people have been mentioning films with similar concepts, The Den probably comes closest, but from everything I’ve seen the “screencast” presentation has never really been done before, most of the similar films from recent years are a lot closer to traditional found footage. That’s my take anyway.

      1. True. You really don’t get closer than ‘The Den’ then – it is entirely screencast with the exception of the ending. It’s a shame that it slid under the radar really.

        While the other found footage horrors are more traditional, the post by Justin does show that the film was directly and personally ripped off, even though the execution is vastly different.

        I love a good found footage horror, and I’m happy that people are trying to be more creative. I feel we’re seeing a bit of a resurgence in horror originality.

        1. I think there are always quality horrors coming out, but a lot of the time they get buried at the cinema beneath all the Platinum Dunes projects & 80s remakes. Plus horror doesn’t get as heavily marketed as, like, sci-fi or action, & never stays in the cinemas for as long. So you have to keep an eye out for the good stuff, & pick it up on DVD, often. Horror fansites are good for sorting the good from the dreck though.

          1. Great point. I’m putting together a post/essay on ‘the subjectivity of fear’ in regards to the current state of horror films, and why I find it difficult to be scared. Mind if I include that point as a quote? Obviously reference your website as a source. I’d use it more as a reference point to the current state of mainstream horror movies, and the difficulty to locate ‘quality’ horrors.

          2. By all means, go ahead. I’d be thrilled to be quoted; you’ll have to drop me a message when the essay’s up.

  2. Good review Christian. A total gimmick of a movie, but one that surprisingly still worked.

    1. I was sold on the gimmick, & fully expecting to be disappointed, but it’s really gripping, isn’t it? I’d watch it again, too.

  3. Good review! I too felt this movie, although imperfect, had some things going for it. However, I must say the ending REALLY killed it for me. It just seemed like such a missed opportunity for something more. I actually would not have minded if the movie just ended 5-10 min. prior the “jump-scare” ending. Maybe that would not have been necessarily the best, but would have been better at least.

    1. Trying not to give spoilers here, but I thought the jump scare ruined the implication of what came immediately before it. I can only think that they needed to close the laptop to get into the end credits, but just having Blaire slam her own laptop shut then cut straight to black would have worked much better imo.

  4. I was actually surprised at how little tension I felt. It didn’t help that half the movie is adolescent American kids yelling over one another. It also shot itself in the foot by being so short, any tension that did build up was ruined by one god-awful ending.

    Glad you got more out of this than I did 🙂

    1. I’m sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy it. I actually thought being brief was a strength of the movie, like it got the job done efficiently. Agreed on the ending though.

      1. Yeah I usually appreciate an efficient movie too, but it felt like the tension was only just starting… It felt like a lot more could have happened. Especially with such a slow start. But it is unique, I like the creative approach to it. I also liked how it played on the psychological mindgame facebook is…. “so and so is typing a message”… “Message Seen”.. etc

        1. Yeah, I thought that stuff was clever. Blaire typing out “She has this uncle” then deleting it was chillingly effective. There’s a sequel in the works, maybe they’ll do more to explore the concept there-? Would you watch that?

          1. yes! They should have had more of that, i liked that stuff a lot. Dunno if I’d watch a sequel though… I probably will out of curiosity. But man that ending was the epitome of underwhelming. Almost anything else would have been better!

  5. abbiosbiston · · Reply

    This review has actually made me think about going to see this…

    1. Go ahead. It’s not deep art but it’s worth your £5.

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