So-called “found footage” is probably one of the most overused gimmicks in contemporary filmmaking. Popularized by The Blair Witch Project back in 1999 but predating that flick by almost two decades, the naturalistic DIY nature of found footage is an attempt at adding a visceral sense of being to whatever is going on onscreen, in the horror genre especially. While this sense of immediacy has the potential to be engaging, it’s been used so much, especially recently, that taking someone’s shoddily made horror film, chopping up the footage, and calling it “found footage” is easier than ever.
Surprisingly enough, Unfriended is here to prove to us that this sub-genre can still be freaked in various ways. The tried and true mechanics of the found footage film are put to good use in a film that couldn’t feel more modern if it tried; the ghost of a dead high schooler stalking their former friends through their computers. High school student Laura Barns kills herself after an humiliating video of her goes viral, and she comes back to harass and kill the friends who may have caused her all this misery. The entire movie takes place from the browser of Blaire (Shelly Henning) and follows her every click, scroll, and Spotify song update as Laura’s “ghost” stalks Blaire and her friends and picks them off one by one, standard horror movie style.
My main complaint about Unfriended is that its new-age (read: our generation) take on found footage is consistently undermined by an attempt to stick to traditional horror staples like gore effects and jump scares. Deaths and unsuspecting bumps in the night just aren’t as scary when they’re distorted by lag and crappy webcams. The conceit is used to tell a reasonably compelling story, regardless of what you may think of the hair-rippingly obnoxious protagonists (though that may be the overall point), that involves something that’s become a modern day horror itself: your past coming back to haunt you in the form of embarrassing Facebook photos and that recorded sex tape you thought you trashed months ago. I also need to give props to screenwriter Nelson Greeves for working in a “call the cops” scene involving webcam randomizing site Chatroulette. Nice touch.
Unfriended also works as a parable that directly condemns cyber bullying; it’s like Teeth or the recent horror flick It Follows, but without the tongue-in-cheek self awareness. It’s a decent little head trip of a horror movie based on a really solid premise that works best when it’s chilling and not trying to be “scary,” but comes recommended. Unfortunately, not all found footage movies are created equal. Some craft compelling, interesting stories using found footage as a base, while others utilize it to hide shitty filmmaking or screenwriting. Here’s my list of some notable found footage flicks, ranked from best to worst.