Unfriended’s strong conceptual work is devastated by a frustrating story execution

Unfriended is a Skype conversation. One screen. Eighty minutes. Cheap, yes, but undeniably fashionable, creative, and clever, a film which seeks to reveal a generation who has never been without a connected device – then turns everything which makes these kids comfortable against them.

Writer Nelson Greaves and director Levan Gabriadze generate a scenario which is cinematically smart. While not a film striving for genius in cinematography, it is one of ingenuity. Drafting tension when locked to a single, immobile user interface requires established credibility. It’s immediately earned. Authentic internet-based services wrap around one another – and they’re all correct in their portrayal. iTunes, Skype, Google, Gmail, Facebook; nothing is faked and the character’s actions are (relatively) logical.

It’s the premise where Unfriended feels lost, pointless even. Smartly adept as it may seem, Unfriended uses a basis of internet and real world bullying as an excuse for horror. Unfriended won’t explore or consider empathy; it would rather shove a bully’s hand into a blender for the shock.

A slip into the supernatural is where Unfriended collapses, generating fear from a dead teenager’s vengeful soul. The seven kids involved in the chat are inherently linked to Laura, a girl shamed to suicide by a YouTube video and the shared harassment which followed. It’s chilling, but without shame. Unfriended uses real world incidents as its base. To falsify this as a ghost story is a dilution of the idea and disservice to those who were legitimately impacted.

“This could happen to you,” except it can’t, so internet trolls, keep doing what you’re doing.

Instead of a film seeking answers or an exploration of abuser motives, it’s a tawdry, purposeless revenge tale using the technology merely for its apparent veil of safety. “This could happen to you,” except it can’t, so internet trolls, keep doing what you’re doing. Unfriended exists to torture bullies – who seem like otherwise normal teens – rather than examine their situations and reasons.

The ease of access to technology is an insinuation for their cruel actions, not a defined motive. As such, their flaw is a disconnected sense of empathy when they hide behind screen names. Unfriended believes in eye for an eye, a treacherous ideal. The movie does not have heroes or anyone who would do the right thing, just privileged teens doing what privileged teens do: pretending to be invincible until they’re not. The film thus accomplishes nothing.

There’s more: The crude treatment of female sexuality, using the very idea Unfriended seems to be against for profitable motives, and the inexcusable lapse in judgment which builds a smart, plausible space for the story only to crumble it all with unrestricted fantasy. No one wins. No one learns. It’s a cleverly decorated slasher movie whose only motive is to be devious in purpose and dishonest in execution.

Movie ★★☆☆☆ 

The group all together @ 19:54

Given Unfriended is one screen, the video quality is of limited consequence. The Mac OS environment, always static on the edges of the frame, poses no issues. Text is defined and program shortcuts are clean. Into the Skype chat, low quality video dominates for a reason. You’ll find no fidelity to speak of, and connections regularly drop in quality on purpose. All manner of artifacts appear.

No color grading appears to have been used. All of the video signals have slightly differing schemes but feel as if done in camera. Black levels, when ever those show, are pure. Unfriended does produce a bit of contrast when it can. More than most “found footage” style cinema, which is where this movie fits (sort of), Unfriended is even less impacted by Blu-ray.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Forget the space of 5.1. Unfriended may as well be mono. It’s locked to the center. A stray bit of motion out to the side when a video window is pushed to the right is the only motion of note. Dialog is like the video – purposefully garbled when required. Discussion of the audio falls back on the LFE end, where the introductory Universal logo is clogged up by a faux quality drop, leading to a jolt. A few of the kills are on the heavy end too.

All that aside, it’s time to bring back a long dormant term: The DTS bomb. Just before the 46-minute mark as Ken stands looking for something, the disc sent a shot to the subwoofer which was at least 20 dB higher than anything else in the movie. It happened at that point during multiple tests – returning to chapter selection, resetting the player – to ensure this was not an equipment issue. Be warned.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

Universal adds no extras to the disc, a real shame considering it would be interesting to see how the 16 day production was done.

Extras ☆☆☆☆☆ 

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.