This article contains major spoilers for the film Unfriended, as well as discussions of suicide and sexual abuse.
Well friends, here we are for my first-ever horror review. I’m usually the type to stray from scary movies, though in recent years, I’ve found myself less and less scared by the horror genre. I’ve gotten a bit more critical of horror films, of their premises, and of the suspension of disbelief needed to enjoy them. I shouldn’t have to believe the impossible to be scared, right? Because that’s what horror films keep asking me to do.
Take Unfriended, a film about the ghost of Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman) wrecking havoc on her former friends through Skypechat. Originally called Cybernatural, Unfriended seems to be a very obvious ploy to the teen horror crowd. I paid $15 to see this movie, which I will probably always regret. That being said, I’ve got quite a bit to say about it.
Unfriended doesn’t try to remake the wheel of teens in horror movies. It gives us our basic cast, and a pretty obvious order of who’s going to die when. First is bitchy, bratty Val (Courtney Halverson.) Next is the chubby, funny one, Ken (Jacob Wysocki.) I had an undecided tie between who would bite it next: would it be classic white-boy douchebag Adam (Will Peltz) or Jess (Renee Olstead), who doesn’t really have any describing factors other than “blonde?”
It was obvious from the get go that our last two standing would be the couple: Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm) and Blaire (Shelley Hennig.) They were introduced to us first, and by horror movie logic, that means they die last.
And they do die. Everyone dies. And that’s important for a very specific reason. Not because it defied a stereotype of leaving one man standing, or whatever. Unfriended is, in and of itself, an upsetting film. And the fact that everyone in the movie dies does play into that, but not in the way the film intended. So let’s take a look at Unfriended, a movie that I left feeling very sad for all the wrong reasons.
Was Unfriended a bad movie? Yes. That goes without me really having to explain it, though I will offer a few tidbits.
- There was, within the first 10 minutes of the movie, a huge inconsistency between Blaire and Mitch’s texts. We can see her iMessage, and at one point, she tells Mitch “It’s not funny!” to suggest that Laura is contacting them from beyond the grave. Mitch responds with something like “I’m serious…” Blaire leaves the iMessage window, and sends a message to Laura’s facebook. She returns to the iMessage window to see that Mitch has sent her a link to some conspiracy website. The first half of her conversation with Mitch is still there. The second part has been changed to “I’m not joking.” Blaire goes to the website, which, without prompting, takes her to a specific page, even though Mitch linked her to the homepage. Okay, then. She goes back to the iMessage. Mitch’s response is back to “I’m serious…” and the earlier parts of their conversation have returned for no reason.
- Is this a minor thing to be focused on? Sure. But it happens so early in the film that right off the bat, it became clear to me that the producers of the film didn’t really care about consistency in their film. And if they can’t be bothered to care about something that simple, why should I be bothered to care about the movie at all?
- There’s all kinds of weird inconsitencies like that throughout the film. The iMessage and Facebook convos keep resetting, so that every time Blaire checks them there’s either no text or one new message.
- So many awkward silences. If you’ve ever watched a Rifftrax of a Twilight film, then you know the “…line?” bit. Picture this happening a LOT in the film.
- The film doesn’t seem to understand that you can still hear people on Skype when you’re in another window. I mean, I guess I understand that we don’t want Blaire browsing the internet while having to listen to her friends yell in the background, but still.
- The movie never addresses how powerful Laura is, or how she got that powerful. She seems to have the ability to possess multiple devices and people at once. No one’s parents are home, for some reason. Did Laura cause that, too? Can she possess people’s thoughts, or just their bodies? How omnipresent is she? How long has she been planning this?
- It’s an 82 minute movie, so obviously they explored none of this. Not that I think that would’ve saved the film. But she did have a lot of power for a random teenage girl with no occult or demonic tendencies.
Now, I know I mentioned earlier that I left this movie feeling pretty upset. I’m gonna break that feeling down for you. There are three major, terrible flaws with this film. And none of them have to do with horror.
1. “Break the Haughty” + The Mean Girl
During a recent re-watching of the classic Mean Girls, the impossible happened. I sat there and realized that Regina George is actually a very vulnerable character. Of course, she doesn’t show it most of the time. That’s why I hadn’t noticed it until my recent rewatch, when I picked up on the little things. Like how she’s actually fully aware that Gretchen relies on her for support, even if she’s not crazy about it. Or that despite her outward meanness, she’s visibly upset about the fact that no one likes her.
And you know why Regina George is vulnerable, most of all? Because she’s a teenage girl. And films, TV, books, etc, love to forget that teenage girls, especially the mean ones, are just as young and insecure as their peers. But instead of recognizing that, we go into the trope of “break the haughty.” We go into the idea that a girl, even if she exudes false self-confidence, has to be broken. We shouldn’t strive to be more confident ourselves. We should break others.
So where does that leave Unfriended? Pretty much firmly entrenched into the break the haughty trope, despite the fact that they actually assign a bit more depth to Laura than is usually allowed. We find out from Blaire that at some point in Laura’s life, she was molested by her uncle.
This knowledge, of course, wasn’t enough to keep Blaire from thinking that Laura needed to be knocked down a peg. And why should it, when the movie doesn’t seem to want us to think too hard about Laura as a character?
As a friend of mine put the trope, “She’s hot and bitchy so she deserves to have bad things happen to her.” She’s also a 17 year-old girl. And let’s keep in mind that the people that turned on her weren’t the people that outright hated her to her face, or people she’d picked on. They were her friends, and they still decided to knock her down a few pegs. And let’s keep in mind, this is not one of those horror movies where they accidentally killed her and vowed to keep it a secret. This is a movie where the victims didn’t consider the full scale of their actions, because Laura was pretty and popular. While they intended to humiliate her, they didn’t expect her to kill herself. Which brings us to our next issue.
2. Basic misconceptions of suicide + suicidal tendencies
Media loves to pretend that suicide is something that can be easily defined and wrapped up with a tight bow. They like to pretend that suicidal tendencies just… happen. That it just takes one moment to turn someone from neurotypical to downing a bottle off pills. And they do that first of all because no one wants to have a serious discussion about mental illness, and second, because people love to turn suicide into a blame-game. The methodology and inner workings of the mind of a suicidal person are never correctly looked into. Suicide just happens, and we should’ve seen it coming the whole time.
So let’s look at Laura, who killed herself in a very unsettling, public way. So now, the makers of the film have now managed to make it look like Laura’s suicide was some last desperate cry for attention (another misconception!) They also make it very clear that the reason Laura killed herself was 100%, no questions asked, because a humiliating video of her was posted online, and people online bullied her into killing herself.
Hey, remember when Blaire told us that Laura’s uncle molested her? Doesn’t that kind of childhood trauma lead to depression later in life? Couldn’t that also be a major factor in what was obviously a long list of very serious issues that Laura had? Guys? Anyone? No?
I mean, really. Part of me left this film with the same level of eye-roll that the ABC Family film Cyberbully earned from pretty much everyone. Which, incidentally, is where we’re going with point three.
3. Teenagers! They’re the worst!
There’s a very specific reason horror movies usually pick teenagers as their victims. They’re easy to hate! They’re loud, unapologetically emotional, and still don’t have a fully developed sense of empathy. Also, they’re always sexting while driving and taking selfies! They’re horrible!
I mean, it’s not like teenagers are the ones that trashed the economy. But you know, selfies.
Herein lies I think, the final and root problem of Unfriended. It’s a film that insists, without shame or consideration, that if you’re a terrible person at 17, you’ll be a terrible person forever.
Reader, I want you to think about what you were like at 17. And I want you to think about how your life would be if you were judged based on that person. 17 is a weird year for everyone. Let’s take a look at our characters, who, at the end of the day, were actually very seventeen.
You have this weird love triangle going on between Adam and Blaire and Mitch, in which Adam is clearly in love with Blaire, but she only cares about Mitch. You’ve got Jess, who’s so desperate for the love and approval of others I could practically taste her desperation. You’ve got Val, who’s mean, yes, but has to deal with these idiots. And then you’ve got Ken, who I’m sure would probably grow out of being kind of a dick if we just gave him a chance.
I walked out of that movie torn, actually. On the one hand, I was furious that they humiliated Laura, that they turned their backs on her as her friends, and then got to live when she didn’t.
On the other hand, as we discussed in point 2, suicide isn’t a blame game. And the characters in the film, while a miserable lot of teenagers, are just that: teens. They haven’t gotten a chance to grow past 17. And if you cut them down now, of course they’re going to seem like horrible people.
But that’s, I think, the problem with a lot of horror movies and Unfriended in particular. We blame teenage behavior on some kind of unfixable personality flaw, when that’s really not the case at all. And what happens is that I’m left sitting in my seat, staring at the screen and saying “Did this movie just spend 82 minutes preaching to teens not to cyberbully? Because it thinks teens are stupid?”
It’s dressed up as something else, sure. But at it’s heart, Unfriended has all those preachy elements that teens neither need nor want to hear. So better luck next time, Unfriended. Maybe try to make it an accidental murder instead of a suicide, and save yourself on that front.
Was Unfriended scary? No.
Would I see it again? Nope!
Do I miss those $15? I do, actually! A lot! Next time I’ll spend it on something worthwhile. Like pizza.
Pizza never disappoints me.
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