UNFRIENDED

You heard it here first:  Unfriended is The Blair Glitch Project.

 Unfriended-posterThat’s what I’m calling this ghost in the machine horror show that takes place entirely on a computer monitor – all 82 minutes of it.  Pretty long for a cyber chat, but just long enough for the blood to start flowing.

 Beginning with the suicide of fellow classmate Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman)after the circulation of an extremely embarrassing videosix of her teen friends discover a malevolent entity lurking within their Skype’d conversations.

 Blair (Shelley Hennig) Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm) Jess (Renee Olstead) Ken (Jacob Wysocki) Val (Courtney Halvorsen) and Adam (Will Peltz) find an uninvited guest among their gossipy gang, but nothing can be done to make the intruder leave.  It communicates with taunts and mysterious, mild threats – at first.  “You don’t want to do that” it declares when one of the group tries to delete it.

 The list of its demands grows, demonstrated by the groupincreasingly panicked (and unsuccessful) maneuvers to remove it.  There are implied consequences; it will not be ignored.

 You WILL pay attention.  You WILL NOT unfriend me.  You WILL all play a game or you WILL die.  Count on it.  

06 There’s a countdown, too, effectively portrayed primarily in audio effects to hype up suspense, along with a youthful WTF factor that is unsettling.

 The entity’s gradual reveal, its purpose and intentions, and its unstoppable, unseen power gives the viewer a sense of mounting dread, while incorporating glitchy computer graphics to heighten the sense of the grotesque as one by one, the teens meet incomprehensible and violent consequences.

 Director Levan Gabriadze (Lucky Trouble) helms a uniquely original visual of a narrative in that it is one long screen shot with video images and text messages simultaneously appearing in real time (with side chats).  His supernatural cautionary tale about cyber bullying proves that we are indeed in the 21st century with all of its technological implications and responsibilities.

 The noname cast helps make this anonymous enough to insert your own groupinto the mix and should resonate especially well with youthful audiences.  The impact of grotesque images of attractive, popular teens (sometimes dropping F-bombs like napalm) while facing the unexpected consequences of deceitful acts, secret trysts, and monumental betrayals illustrates the ripple effect of one bad decision when allowed to flourish in pixels and bandwidth.

 Moving swiftly to its very predictable ending, Unfriended gets a bit cliché at times when the gang gets frenzied and their dialogue is limited almost solely to profanity.  One of the scenes of “comeuppance” shall we say, is almost comical, which breaks up the terrifying momentum that’s been so carefully crafted.

 Though not an original subject or premise, the film’s originality comes from viewing it within the confines of a computer monitor, its square dimensions like the borders of some vast cyber-country full of one word commands.

 Chat. Tweet. Snap. Like. Post. Share. Unlike. Unfriend. Delete. Die.

unfriended-33Two-time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett is the haute couture reason to revel in the visuals as her scathing, scarlet lips issue a cascade of casual cruelty.  Wicked stepsisters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera) provide vain, silly (but not ugly) counterparts for James’s kind, forgiving, integrity-filled servant-turned-princess. Madden’s prince has a first name, and it is NOT Charming, but he does wear tights, ride horses, and pursue his prized female with a solitary glass shoe.  

Thankfully, some things never change.Director Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet) helms a Chris Weitz (Antz) narrative that is safe – and sumptuous.  Academy Award winners Sandy Powell (costume design) and Dante Ferretti (production design) weave an opulence that for some, will be enough to ride into “Happily Ever After.”Others will find the new Cinderella to be an instance of More is Less.  

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