There are a few simple ingredients to making a successful horror film: at least one character the audience can root for, decent scares, a plot worth following, and a story that leaves the viewers thinking that somehow, maybe, just maaaaybe, what they just saw could happen.
Most movies need two to get by, the good ones nail at least three and get at least a finger on the fourth. Even Nightmare on Elm Street, with its implausible villain, left some people afraid to go to bed just in case there really was a way for dreams to be invaded. We base a lot of our cultural fears on things we can't explain and horror movies, the good ones at least, amplify those fears.
So it is with heavy heart but little surprise that I tell you Unfriended barely achieved the final item on my list and failed miserably at the other three. Which is a real shame because the premise was solid.
One year after Laura Barnes committed suicide, six of her 'friends' find themselves chatting online. Strangely though, a seventh person is in on the call and nobody can seem to figure out who it really is or how to get rid of them. All they know is that the mysterious 'hacker' is using Laura's old Skype name.
What follows is absolutely boring. The six friends start off with confusion, turning to contempt and threats as they try to get rid of the unwanted hacker. Once they realize that they're in actual danger it all devolves into begging, pleading, screaming and cajoling as they turn on one another in order to try and save their own skins.
The only thing worse than the plot are the characters themselves. They're all just absolutely terrible people. If at least one of them were somehow likeable maybe I would have cared as they began to get killed off one by one. Yet all I could do was silently cheer, knowing that there was one less person on screen standing between me and the freedom of leaving the theater.
Plus, if you're going to show me a movie about friends in high school at least pretend they're in high school. None of the characters looked or acted the part. I know I got into my fair share of trouble when I was a teenager but these six are the most hateful, scummy people I've ever seen onscreen.
It bums me out. The idea really is solid. A malignant spirit comes back to haunt her tormentors on the anniversary of her death, a suicide brought on by the bullying actions of those she thought were friends, is a good plot for a horror film. Filming it solely from the POV of a computer screen is even cooler, showing us just how much of the world can be accessed from a keyboard.
There were even a few great moments in the film. But they were too small and unimportant to the general plot to lift the rest of the movie out of the trash.
But it could still work as an idea. Make it rated R, not because 'oh you need violence or nudity or gore' but because you need to explore slightly more adult themes than telling on your friend for selling pot to save your own skin. That doesn't make me feel for you, that makes me feel like you're all idiots.
Make the characters older, wiser, more interesting. Teenage girls who are cast as the human embodiment of every negative stereotype of teenage girls doesn't make me care. Drunken teenagers who wave guns around don't make me care either.
Then, just give me at least one person to give a shit about.
If all of that happened I would have liked Unfriended. As it stands, this is probably going the be my least favorite horror film of 2015.