Unfriended opens with a truly harrowing sequence: grainy smartphone footage shows a girl clutching something at arm’s length. There are shrieks of panic from an unseen crowd and you realise she’s holding a gun. There’s a bang and she collapses backward; you’re watching a snuff video, and one that looks horribly authentic.
As Unfriended’s protagonist, Blair, clicks through articles online we learn the dead girl had been a victim of cyber-bullying. A YouTube video hints at a mortifying incident but it’s cut tantalisingly short as a Skype call rings.
This is how the entire film plays out: on the screen of Blair’s laptop. She holds group video chats, sends instant messages and watches videos. It sounds like hard work but it feels effortless, the familiarity adding to the building sense of unease. The mouse cursor flicks casually across the screen, drawing your attention to pertinent information.
As they chat, Blair and her friends notice an unknown presence lurking on the fringes of their conversation, an anonymous intruder who appears to have access to their social media and email accounts. As the tension builds, partially obscured windows hint at unseen horrors.
It wears its influences on its sleeve – the Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity spring to mind – and the characters are all horror-movie archetypes: the jock, the fat funny guy, the bitchy girl, the sensitive one, the boyfriend. Yet the result is strikingly original.
Unfriended is the first film to successfully capture our anxieties over the internet, a place where mistakes can be excruciatingly public and horribly permanent. As one on-screen message reads: “What you’ve done will live here forever.”