Bullying happens everywhere, whether we like it or not. The desire for popularity is commonly related to bullying. Be it physical, emotional or in today’s context, cyber-bullying, it’s a perennial and ubiquitous problem. One such film that explores this issue is Unfriended, a supernatural flick whose story unfolds through the use of new-age media like Skype and Facebook.

Set in California, the movie is told almost entirely through a screencast of the laptop of high school student Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig), a year after the death of her childhood friend Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman). Blaire is looking back at newsreels and articles reporting Laura’s suicide as a result of online abuse received from a video on YouTube, when she gets a Skype call from her boyfriend Mitch Roussel (Moses Jacob Storm).

The duo is joined by three of their friends shortly after, as well as an unnamed fourth account, faceless and with the screen name “billie227”. As the group initially shrugs it off as a glitch and attempt to reconnect, the relentless re-appearance of “billie227” creates paranoia that it may possibly be related to Laura’s death. Blaire even receives cryptic messages from Laura’s account on Facebook, inevitably heightening tension and suspicion.

Blaire then decides to finally “unfriend” Laura on Facebook in a bid to stop the messages for good. Then more unusual occurrences take place. Unintended messages are sent between the friends, inciting hatred and stirring insecurity. Games are played, photos leaked and rumours exposed. Cyberspace hits home, and virtual reality turns physical.

Directed by Levan Gabriadze, Unfriended is chock-full of shocks that will genuinely frighten and linger in our minds, a fear that is heightened by our own regular usage of the social mediums featured in the movie. It also sheds light on the social context of young adults in America, and how the effects cyber-bullying can have on an individual often go unnoticed. That is, until somebody gets hurt.

As the friends’ secrets of scandals, malice and sabotage are revealed, we slowly witness the lies that even closely-knit groups of friends keep from each other behind their backs. The ensemble cast of six, led by Blaire, pulls off convincing performances through their screencasts. Their actions also serve to test the knowledge we have of our favourite social platforms in technical detail, and speaks of the work that went into executing the film.

Beneath it all, Unfriended has strong themes and underlying messages of bullying and its repercussions. It also emphasizes the fact that what’s posted online stays online forever. An effective supernatural thriller, one thing is for certain: Unfriended is not for the faint-hearted. While jump scares are kept to a bare minimum, the shock factor is incredibly high. The graphic nature of the content may not be bearable for some. Hence viewer discretion truly is advised for this film, even for teenagers. You have been warned.

Unfriended is now showing in theatres.

Directed by: Levan Gabriadze
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Running time: 83 minutes
Classification: NC16
Rating: 3.5/5