“Gimmick” is a word that critics and viewers throw out with wanton abandon for films like Unfriended, and this film invites the usage. It is a lazy, amorphous critique thrown out whenever a film tries something new. It was a gimmick when Stanley Kubrick brought in cinematographer John Alcott to film Barry Lyndon as if it was an 18th century painting so that he could dissect the falsity and artifice in the lifestyles of the film’s characters, explore the ways in which film is always fictional, discover the limits of cinematic attempts at “realism”, and champion cinema all the same for the ways it can use fiction to explore the cosmic regions that lie in the murky waters beyond realism. What matters is not that it was a gimmick, but whether it was an effective gimmick, and, in that particular case, it was a masterful one, perfectly suited to its film and alive as passionate cinema.
Unfriended isn’t all that scary. This much is no surprise; horror movies generally aren’t. But why Unfriended isn’t scary, not that is a tale worth telling. We begin with its gimmick: Unfriended is the story of five teenagers being haunted and systematically killed of by the ghost of a friend they tormented and cyber-bullied into committing suicide, and the entire story is told on the computer-screen of one of the characters. Never once, not for the roughly 90 minute run-time, do we ever glance anywhere outside of the bounds and limits of this computer screen. The results of which are a very alien, detached film, a work of poor, limited characterization and half-hearted developments that does little beyond find a new way to tackle a tired, hackneyed slasher story with characters who grow weary by the minute and die in exactly the order anyone who has seen a single slasher film will predict within moments of the characters’ assembly on screen together. Continue reading