It's always a delight when films prove to hold up on repeat viewings, especially when it's something that made such an impact first time around. We were lucky enough to be part of a packed-out crowd at the world premiere of Unfriended (then known as Cybernatural) last summer at Montreal's Fantasia International Film Festival and were suitably enamoured. As were Universal, who picked up the micro-budget horror as a result of the raucous reaction that night and, a few tweaks later, it arrives in UK cinemas this Friday.
Unfolding entirely on a computer screen, Unfriended sees a group of friends haunted by a mysterious presence during a Skype call that is posting from a classmate's account, one year on from their suicide due to bullying. The film isn't the first to utilise such an approach, with the likes of The Den and Open Windows doing similar, yet what marks it out is its authenticity. It's not just that it can use the official names due to being released by a studio, but also in the reactions of the protagonists, from using Chat Roulette to get help to how a small secret can spiral out of control at that age.
A lot of credit has to go to the cast, solidly led by Teen Wolf's Shelley Hennig, in keeping our attention when the scares and tension come from something as seemingly unthreatening as a status bar. The film was shot in its entirety with the cast in different rooms, and it means that it really feels like they've lived through what their characters are going through. As the film progresses, you realise that the characters are all fairly hideous human beings but, crucially, are never annoying to the extent that you're just waiting for their deaths. When the deaths do come though, they're smartly realised and provide some strong visual gags, with one character's demise greatly improved from the original cut and a wince-inducing encounter with a household appliance.
On the whole, the changes to the original cut are minimal but smart, such as the group conversation being muted when Blaire Lily (Hennig) is doing something outside of Skype and the addition of hints of a connection between Blaire and the deceased classmate Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman). The best change has been to the ending with the abruptness of the original version replaced by a fun, but arguably cheap, jump scare that removes any ambiguity. New cut or not, it's pleasing to note Unfriended has remained an innovative and mightily effective slasher for the digital age, and one of the strongest horrors in some time.