If you like to see people in your movies, Unfriended probably isn’t the film for you. Facebook and Skype don’t simply serve as a framework for the movie, they are the movie. The film is just 82 minutes of main character Blaire’s computer screen, typing either on someone’s Facebook wall or in Skype’s text chat, with a few small squares of Skype video chat friends minimized and mostly covered by multiple windows and tabs.
It should also be noted that the trailers for this film were deliberately misleading in this regard; all the full-frame footage from the trailers was actually played out in tiny windows lost among desktop clutter during the actual film.
There were oddly long stretches of silence despite the fact that for most of the film they were in a group voice chat. When Blaire did her typing, more often than not there was complete silence aside from the computer’s keyboard and a few random beeps. There is “low budget” filmmaking and then there’s just “not even trying” filmmaking. Unfriended is firmly in the latter category.
Interestingly this film is praised more highly by critics than moviegoers. Normally I wouldn’t bring up such a fact in a review. But the consensus of those positive reviews is that the movie is a success specifically because they claim its flat, unengaging methodology reaches people on a visceral level by being so true to life in this digital age. They claim that it has captured real life in this era of Facebook and social media like no film before it. Given that it’s barely managed to skim more than a 50% approval rating from audiences (which have a much larger sample size at 12,400+ compared to 71 critical reviews), I feel confident in saying that Unfriended‘s creators gambled on a gimmick that did not pay off. The very millennials they seem to think will be awed by this film have given it a half-hearted shrug of mild disinterest.
A filmmaker can intend to subvert tropes and cliches, but whether they succeed is for the audience to decide. If people just aren’t enjoying themselves when they see a movie, something has failed, and all the witty and subversive intentions can’t fix that. The filmmakers also should have perhaps considered that people watch movies when they feel like doing something other than staring at their Facebook page.
In keeping with this film’s ability to set the bar ever lower, the characters are astoundingly unlikable. There was very little suspense in Unfriended, because there isn’t much dramatic tension if the audience doesn’t care if the characters die. The longer the film wore on, the more everyone ended up revealing the horrible things they’ve done to their own friends, all played out to the general backdrop of calling all the female characters sluts and stupid bitches non-stop.
To round out the general tragedy of this film, almost every single scary bit and money shot is shown in the trailer, including the only really scary death. The audience goes in having seen all the exciting parts and then has to sit through the padding.
If I seem like a completely humorless killjoy, I’d like to point out that I’m normally the first person to defend the films of Blumhouse Productions to others. Paranormal Activity is among my favorite horror franchises and I consider even my least favorite of the lot to be enjoyable enough. Aside from specific criticisms, I like both the Sinister and Insidious series. I like Blumhouse films enough that I’ll be seeing most if not all of their upcoming offerings. Having said that, Unfriended is a disappointing hot mess, and is one of only three films I’ve ever considered walking out of.