Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Unfriended

If you see one found footage horror movie this year, make it “Unfriended.”

A gimmicky horror movie with no major stars. A “found footage” movie. A “dead teenager” movie. Yes, “Unfriended” is all of these things. And it’s also a pretty good movie.

I take the minority opinion on the “found footage” horror subgenre. I like it because it’s inherently low budget and sets the filmmakers up with limitations. Not only do they not have a lot of money to throw at visual effects, they also are forced to craft their story using one camera (sometimes more, but usually not) held by characters who are in the movie. The challenge is to create a standard, traditional narrative within the confines of not being able to place the camera wherever they want. It interests me, and I admit, some movies are more successful than others at pulling it off.

What makes “Unfriended” special is that it ups the ante. No longer is a character holding a camera and we follow him or her as they move around. In this movie, all of the action takes place within the computer monitor of teenager Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig).

The first things we see on the monitor are Blair and her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm) doing exactly the types of things that make me wish this technology was available when I was in high school. The fun is short lived, however, as their friends Jess (Renee Olstead), Adam (Will Peltz), and Ken (Jacob Wysocki) show up. Eventually they also invite in Val (Courtney Halverson), but she’s a bitch and no one likes her.

How much of a bitch is Val? So much so that she posted an embarrassing video on youtube of classmate Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), and when Laura asked Val to take it down, Val’s response was to tell Laura to kill herself. So she did. And wouldn’t you know it, tonight is the one year anniversary of Laura’s suicide. When a mysterious hacker enters into their conversation and starts disrupting their friendship, it pretty much redefines what it means to get trolled. 

Skype, Instant Messages, Facebook, and all matter of technology and social media are used to propel the story along. It’s an interesting commentary that these programs and devices that bring these friends together are the very things that are used to tear them apart. It goes to show that technology, much like science, is neither good nor bad. It is the user that makes them so. Atomic energy can either destroy an entire city or it can generate electric power for that same city. Likewise, social media can be used to bring people together or it can be used to hurt people and rip friendships apart.

But not everything in “Unfriended” is new school. A particularly suspenseful sequence involves the drinking game “Never Have I Ever.” Except that in this version, whoever has done five things doesn’t drink—they die.

The teen angst and hormone addled emotions are strikingly real. Tempers flare and situations get extremely heated. Through it all, the mysterious hacker gleefully watches the chaos unfold. The fun part is that through Blaire’s monitor, so do we. Buy it.

Unfriended (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet)

Also New This Week:

Hot Pursuit

Folks of a certain age see this title and they think about the delightful John Cusack romp from 1987. Think again. This “Hot Pursuit” is a painfully unfunny buddy road movie. Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara do their best as a straight-laced cop and the witness she is assigned to protect, respectively, but Vergara in particular goes too over the top and tries way too hard, and the jokes all around fall flat. Worse is a plot twist that must have been added on at the last minute when writers David Feeney and John Quaintance couldn’t figure out where to go, because it’s way too far fetched. Skip it, and instead, if you’re in the mood for a female buddy movie, rent the not great but much better “The Heat” from 2013, starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, or, if road trips with cops and criminals (or bounty hunters and bail jumpers) are what you crave, rent the much better “Midnight Run” from 1988, starring Charles Grodin and Robert De Niro. Or heck, rent “Hot Pursuit” from 1987. Totally different premise, but a fun movie with a very winning John Cusack in the lead as a young man trying to catch up to his rich girlfriend vacationing in the Caribbean.

More New Releases: “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” good period piece unnecessarily bogged down by an uninspired modern day sub plot; “Still of the Night,” standard pot boiler with Roy Scheider as a psychiatrist who falls in love with a dead patient’s mistress (Meryl Streep) who may or may not be a femme fatale; “The People Under the Stairs,” gonzo Wes Craven movie about a big, spooky house that holds some dark secrets—and an awesome leather gimp suit; “Hellfighters,” big budget dud from 1968, starring John Wayne as the world’s best oil well fire fighter—this movie could have been great, such a waste; and “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” which should only be watched if you want to see why the series went back to Michael Myers for part 4, and stayed with him—it’s that bad. 

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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