The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
Send this page to Twitter!  

THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



They say that as soon as you have three of something, it's officially a trend. So apparently we now have a trend in...what should we call them? Cyber-horror movies? The Den, Open Windows, and now Unfriended all take place entirely on a computer screen. That's a real up-to-the-minute idea. Then again, if you spend most of your workday on a computer, going to a movie that simulates the experience may not be the most appealing prospect in the world. Regardless, there's something to be said for this emerging mini-genre, and Unfriended perfectly encapsulates both its strengths and weaknesses.

In this case, the computer belongs to Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig). As the movie begins, the young woman watches a YouTube video of bullied classmate Laura Barns committing suicide. She then gets on Skype to have a chat session with her boyfriend and four other pals. While they're talking, someone claiming to be Laura joins in. She also begins sending Blaire private messages. Initially, everyone assumes this is the work of some kind of troll, especially since it's the one-year anniversary of the suicide. But then Laura announces that she (he? it?) is going to start killing everyone. After the first death, they all realize a very freaky circumstance is taking place.

There's something undeniably ingenious about the execution of Unfriended. Director Leo Gabriadze does a masterful job of making sure we know exactly where to look at every second. When the screen gets cluttered with windows, he uses Blaire's cursor to point us in the right direction. The director executes a juggling act with confidence and skill. It's cool, too, how the movie capitalizes on things we're all familiar with. Whereas some movies about computers invent their own operating systems and programs, Unfriended realistically utilizes the same stuff that's on your own laptop. Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, and Chatroulette all factor in. The very idea of having a horror movie play out in cyberspace speaks to our time. So many of us devote large chunks of the day to social media and online life. We know that this relatively new frontier comes with a dark side. Films such as this one tap into those fears.

The downside – in this case, at least – is that the gimmick proves somewhat limiting. Unfriended doesn't have a plot, it just has a situation. Supposedly dead person arrives online, people die one by one, and in the last five minutes you get the twist explaining why you've just seen everything that has occurred. The Den and Open Windows both did a much better job of opening up their worlds, so that we felt there were real people on the other ends of those webcams. Unfriended doesn't offer much in the way of character development, either, which severely limits the impact of the revenge scheme “Laura” is carrying out. Given the timely cyberbullying theme, it should really be more hard-hitting.

Dealing realistically with cyberspace apparently also means dealing with its problems. The only thing more annoying than internet connectivity problems is seeing them simulated onscreen, and Unfriended simulates them a lot. Several times, it tries to generate suspense by making you wonder what you'll see when that obnoxious little “buffering” circle disappears. And glitchy Skype sessions? Don't get me started.

Unfriended is sufficiently diverting for those of us computer-savvy enough to tap into its basic concept. At the same time, it shows that if cyber-horror movies are going to continue – and they doubtlessly are – filmmakers will need to find a way to prevent the technology from distancing the audience from the characters and story. The Net can be a creepy place, so there's a lot of potential here. Unfriended raises the right issues, yet never quite makes them hit home.

( 1/2 out of four)

Unfriended is rated R for violent content, pervasive language, some sexuality, and drug and alcohol use - all involving teens. The running time is 1 hour and 22 minutes.

Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.