Unfriended Is Your Worst Digital Nightmare Come To Life

We open on the computer screen of Blaire Lily, where the entirety of Unfriended will unfold. It appears to be a pretty standard night. She's listening to her current jam on Spotify. She's got Facebook, Tumblr, Forever21, Free People, and her email open in different tabs on Chrome. We watch as Blaire fires up Skype and starts teasing her boyfriend by unbuttoning her shirt. They're soon interrupted by three (later four) of their friends, who show up for what appears to be a regular nighttime group hang. Look at Blaire's screen. It could easily be yours.
Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Only it's not just any other day. Today is the anniversary of their friend Laura Barns' suicide, and there's a mysterious person in their Skype sesh. Clearly, tonight isn't going to be like any other night. Also, Unfriended isn't going to be like any other movie you've ever watched before. 

What's most jarring about watching Unfriended is how closely it mirrors your own increasingly screen-timed life. "I think you feel less like a digital voyeur and more like, oh my gosh, this is me," writer and producer Nelson Greaves says. "You keep trying to grab the mouse." (This is entirely true; I looked down at one point while Blaire was painstakingly right clicking to copy and paste something, and my fingers were subconsciously hitting command/c and command/v to try to speed her up.) 

All too soon, the mystery Skyper is wreaking havoc in all of their lives, and using multiple applications to do so. It wasn't hard to turn elements of our digital life into something to fear. 

"One of the most frustrating and tantalizing things is when you send that text message, and it says the other person has seen your message, but isn't responding. It's that ellipses; that's something that we've learned to care about. We've learned to be afraid of it, and it's a source of tension," Greaves says. It's an update of the found-footage genre. "We used the constraints and limitations of a computer screen the same way The Blair Witch Project used video cameras."

In Unfriended, that ellipses could mean that the other character is actually dead, because as the viewer, you have no idea what's happening outside of Blaire's computer screen. This becomes increasingly problematic as you slowly realize that Blaire is an unreliable narrator. The more you watch her screen, the more you learn about her secrets and deception. She might not intentionally be a cyberbully, but that's something the film wants to address. 

"When we started working on this movie two years ago, cyberbullying was a huge problem. Now, the problem's only gotten worse, and people still have no idea what to do about it," Greaves says. "The problem really comes from the nature of the Internet. Kids aren't cyberbullying each other to be cruel or to be mean; they're doing it to get likes. They're doing it so the witty thing they said, which also happened to be mean, gets them positive reinforcement."

Unfriended addresses a dire consequence of this: suicide. Did this run-of-the-mill group of teens actually cause their friend to kill herself? Are they actually consoling themselves and trying to alleviate guilt over her suicide by telling one another that Laura had other problems; family stuff...that kind of thing? The mystery person in their hangout clearly picked this night for revenge for a reason. 
Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
"Online, your memories last forever, but so do your mistakes," the trailer warns. All of our digital footprints are increasingly vast and extremely personal. People don't forget, and thanks to the Internet, you can't forget. Unfriended is a terrifying reminder of that, one that you'll take with you after the 82 minutes of hell (which unfold painfully in real time) are over. 

"I think the scariest moment happens two hours after the movie when you come home and you sign onto your computer, and you hear that noise that you got tagged in a new photo on Facebook. You look at your computer, and you say, 'Wait a second, this thing is never going to be the same again,'" Greaves says.

It's true. The spinning pinwheel of death now has blood on its rainbow segments. Unfriended is your actual digital nightmare come to life. 

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