‘Unfriended’ Is Unexpectedly Great
Yes, that haunted Skype movie. Where a bunch of friends are tormented by an unseen figure via the internet, leading to murder and whatnot. Let’s get this out of the way now: Unfriended is a shitty movie. The plot is borderline ridiculous, the acting is atrocious and the dialogue is what a person who has only ever seen teenagers on youtube would write for teenage characters. Then there’s the ending. It’s really, really bad. Either they ran out of ideas and slapped on the ending from Paranormal Activity or they ran out of ideas and stuck on a Screamer (you know, that scary faces that pop up in videos that friend you muted keeps sending you). If you stop the movie at exactly 1:16:34 you’ll be much happier. Trust me.
Some people have praised the movie for putting the theme of cyber bullying on the table, but it does that with the subtlety of a walrus. The message that you shouldn’t tell someone to kill themselves on the internet because you’ll feel bad if they do kill themselves is not going open anyones eyes. This is doubly true when movie presents the repercussions for such actions has being attacked by an evil internet ghost. If one person walks away from this film with a new understanding of why cyberbullying is harmful, then that is fantastic, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.
That’s why the movie is shitty, but from the title of the article you may have deduced that there’s some good things to say. Not about the movies plotting or characters or anything conventionally associated with a ‘good’ movie, but what it represents. Unfriended represents film-makers challenging themselves.
We live in an age where a film-maker can literally put anything and everything on the screen. With the advance of computer generated images there is no limitation on what can be achieved. Look at Avatar, the Star Wars prequels and The Hobbit for evidence of how much of a movie can create using these means. This is, naturally, a very good thing. Having technological limitations placed on a creative mind means that some amazing works of art have gone unrealised.
On the flip side of the coin, it does mean that creative minds can do whatever they want. The very examples we cited above, Avatar, the Star Wars prequels and The Hobbit trilogy, show what happens when there are no limitations on the film-makers and other aspects of the process – such as writing, director, acting, characterisation, etc. – fall by the wayside. Now that the toolbox is wide open it’s up the creative types to put self imposed limitations on themselves in order to produce the best possible works.
Surprisingly Unfriended does exactly this. The entire film takes place on one computer screen. The camera never deviates from this image, nor does it switch from to the screens of any other characters. This sets a massive limitation on the film-makers, from what they can show in telling a largely visual story. It goes one step further by having the movie’s soundtrack taking place on said computers music library. The film-maker has done well in using the placement of elements within the screen and the movement of the pointer in leading the viewers eye around the screen, making it rarely feel like a limitation.
That’s not even the only limitation the film-makers have put on themselves. On top of a weirdly specific concept, which limits the what can be done within the story, and restricting the viewpoint to that of a single computer screen, the movie plays out in real time and with one shot. Not like Russian Ark, which was filmed in one shot, but it’s edited together to look like one shot. The film does have an effective sense of urgency and suspense due to this, and makes an otherwise silly idea feel more compact.
None of these ideas are new ideas. Experimental short films taking place on a computer screen have been done, and real time movies have done before and better (see High Noon, Timecode and Nick of Time). Even Birdman stitched together the film into a what appears to be a single shot. That doesn’t detract from this forced limitation being a positive step. It elevates this movie from being a complete waste of time to being intriguing.
There’s a long standing track record of creative geniuses deliberately putting themselves under such limitations in order to strengthen the final product. Legendary comic writer Alan Moore puts a strict limit on the number of issues, pages and panels for each story, forcing himself to trim away absolutely everything that isn’t completely essential. Musician Jack White sets out a list of rules for every new album he writes and producers. Quentin Tarantino used to have a rule that music in his films has to be played on screen by a character on cassette, record, radio or an 8-track (never a CD). Irregardless of your opinion of their works, you have to acknowledge their accomplishments in their fields.
So let’s not turn our noses up at Unfriended for being a horror movie set in Skype, or for being shot on a computer screen. It tries to do something new, and it limits itself for creative purposes. It turned out to be a crummy movie. Hopefully some better film makers will take up this idea and start doing something better. Imagine if the Star Wars prequels for the remake of The Thing limited themselves to using practical effects and only used CGI to touch up the shot. Perhaps if Peter Jackson restricted the use of CGI in The Hobbit to what they had available in Lord of the Rings. That’s an industry I can get behind.