Sunday, May 22, 2016

In short: Unfriended (2014)

aka Cybernatural

A bunch of teenagers (as is traditional played by a bunch of actors in their twenties) find themselves threatened with hilarious deaths when their Skype group chat is haunted by a ghost for whose suicide they may or may not be partially responsible. Quickly, mildly unpleasant secrets are revealed, the teens are screeching into the camera as is their duty, and the ghost murder-possesses them for increasingly silly “suicides”.

I really would have liked to have enjoyed Levan Gabriadze’s teen horror piece more than I actually did. After all, its basic idea of a ghost taking over a surprisingly soundly portrayed bit of contemporary technology, opening up the possibility to make POV horror even cheaper by having it take place on a laptop screen, is strong, and haunted technology has been a part of horror for a long, long time. However, while the technology here does at least make more sense than in the monumentally stupid (as well as deeply annoying) Open Windows, the actual execution of the concept dumbs things down until the second half of the film consists of little more than a handful of young, pretty actors screeching into the viewer’s face for forty minutes. It’s competent screeching, mind you, but this sort of thing isn’t exactly an effective away to creep anyone out.

Part of the film’s problem is how little frightening its ghost actually is, talking too much – if only in writing – and showing all the traits of a spiteful child. And it’s not as if the film is being self-conscious here and trying to milk some sort of ghostly single-mindedness for chills; it just doesn’t seem to know how to scare - or chill, or even mildly creep out.

Unfriended could still make up for its lack of ghostly goodness if the characters were more interesting, but the format really doesn’t allow anyone on screen to be introspective, and the film’s attempt to make up for it by having the ghost – moving from ineffective ghost to lamer Saw villain - force the characters’ dark secrets out with a childish game backfires by the sheer smallness of these secrets. Sure, character A will certainly be deeply hurt that his girlfriend character B slept with his best friend character C (and let me just say “ewww” to character B’s taste in men), but I found myself not caring all that much about that stuff, given how tedious and soap operatic it is. Even the theoretically heavier stuff falls flat thanks to the surface-level way in which we learn about it, as well as because of the film’s total inability to go even the slightest bit deeper into anything, leaving oh so very obscure things like motivations or the grey areas of human emotions completely alone. One might say that’s a rather clever indictment of the Facebook type of semi-public emotion; I don’t see anything else in the film that suggests it’s actually that clever. My money is on other things – stupidity and a complete lack of imagination.

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