The major theme that emerges from the mesmerizing film Unfriended, which restricts the action to a teenager’s computer screen, is that of shame. There is some very heavy foreshadowing that the action of this horror thriller will be set in motion by the shaming of Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), a friend of Blaire Lily’s (Shelley Hennig) who starred in an humiliating YouTube video, and later killed herself because of it.
But the theme of shame permeates throughout director Levan Gabriadze’s film, which was originally titled Cybernatural, and then given the much more a propos title of Unfriended. Even the working title of Offline did not quite capture the level of shame on display in the film.
Almost immediately, from an early scene of this highly entertaining production, Lily swears that prom night is the time that she will lose her virginity to puppy dog boyfriend Mitch Roussel (Moses Jacob Storm). Firstly, this is troubling, because is prom night still a thing? Perhaps writer Nelson Greaves intended this idea to be present as a winking homage to eighties films in a future forward film. But secondly, the idea of the shame of sex, and of virginity or a lack of it permeates the young ladies of the film, whom also include Jess Felton (singer/actress Renee Olstead) and Val Rommel (Courtney Halverston), who appears to have been excised from the group from some shameful reason or another.
But once the shame angle is dropped, Unfriended reveals itself to be a welcome and dare say transcendent film, (even though the concept of watching action entirely confined to a screen is also present in Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg’s award winning short film Noah and Branden Kramer’s current festival revelation Ratter, as well as Webcam, the short on which it is based). But Unfriended has some discoveries that make the film hum with energy throughout, and never was the urgent ping of Facebook message or iTunes song selection or Skype group chat so filled with nuance and fascination.
Kudos to Gabriadze for keeping the action humming and for editing seamlessly the action onscreen with some obvious Chekhovian clues that play out perfectly at the end of the briskly moving film.
Perhaps if the antiquated shaming was kept out of Unfriended, (and, to be honest, some of the more Cybernatural elements seemed like window dressing as well), the film would have topped the list of technology driven thrillers. But as it is, Unfriended is well worth logging onto, but leave your devices at home.