In horror, a genre so defined by referentiality, any speck of genuine original thought can be incredibly refreshing and dangerously risky. Horror fans have voted with their wallets and proven themselves more willing than most to accept the derivative, and the genre has progressed over decades through small, incremental evolutions in between comparatively few revolutionary outliers.1
The challenge facing horror filmmakers in the 21st century is clear: how does one stand out in a sea of cookie-cutter variations on familiar themes?
Producer Timur Bekmambetov and director Leo Gabriadze attempt to set their indie horror flick Unfriended apart by the use of a clever gimmick: the entire movie is presented as if screencast from the computer screen of Blaire (Shelley Hennig), a high school teenager whose life is spent actioning the barrage of texts, tweets and notifications that keep her in touch with all of her friends simultaneously. She hangs out with friends in a Skype call, private conversations happen on iMessage and Facebook, and background information is helpfully doled out by clicking through search results in a browser window; all happening on screen, in real time.
Through a handful of such search results and web pages we learn that one year earlier, after being subjected to a humiliating program of cyberbullying from her peers, Blaire’s friend Laura Barns committed suicide — an act that was, of course, filmed and uploaded to the internet. Now, on the anniversary of her death, Laura’s vengeful spirit has forced its way into the group’s digital lives to torment Blaire and her friends for their wrongdoing. As tension escalates in the group, Laura coerces each of the friends into admitting their high-school sins under threat of possession (both physical and virtual) and death. It’s part Saw, part Paranormal Activity, and all ultra-modern twist on the found footage subgenre