The real life horror of 'Unfriended'

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The best horror movies are ones that tap into something more than simple entertainment. They connect to our very real-world fears through the strange and macabre. Current horror hit Unfriended is a tense POV horror designed especially for the current “plugged in” generation. It also examines a topic very close to my own heart: bullying.

For six years at secondary school I experienced bullying on an almost daily basis. My weight, odd personality and general lack of ability to fit in made me an easy target. Name calling and verbal harassment was commonplace, along with the occasional physical confrontation such as a fight or one incident where a group of girls followed me home and threw rocks at me. Cyber bullying as dealt with in Unfriended was something that I narrowly missed, Facebook only really becoming a big thing in my first year of university. However the key emotions of helplessness, hopelessness and pain are very familiar to anyone who has been in that situation. From this place I found Unfriended to be a surprisingly interesting and effective film, crafting a simple take on a well known set up of a vengeful spirit into something that can really resonate with young people. There are some very well played moments of unsettling and creepy realisation, along with my loathed overly loud jump scares. It is entertaining on the basic level of watching teenagers get haunted and at the same time comments on the nature of bullying with startling clarity.

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In Unfriended we view the real time events through the computer screen of Blair, a normal, average, moderately popular it would seem, high school girl. All the programs she uses are real, no fake Google here, and the way that she switches between windows and programs will feel very natural to anyone used to spending a large amount of time on the computer. As the film opens she is dwelling on the anniversary of the death of a fellow student, Laura Barns, who committed suicide following an embarrassing video of her being posted online and she received several hurtful messages from anonymous sources, including ones simply saying “KILL URSELF”. Laura’s spirit begins to communicate with and attack Blair and her friends over a shared Skype call, exposing their own transgressions and pushing them to confess their involvement with her bullying and death.

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The thing that a lot of people don’t realise about bullying is that whilst it is incredibly upsetting and painful for the victim, there is also an element of the mundane and casual to it. It takes almost no effort to send someone a quick message making fun of them, and the distance that the internet affords us also means a lack of immediate consequence and in turn a lack of personal responsibility our words may have on the target. As we are in Blair’s view for the duration of the film and therefore sympathise with her, by the time we understand the extent of her involvement in Laura’s death it is almost too late for the audience to condemn her. This highlights that the perpetrators of harassment aren’t clichéd burly gangs from 80s teen films but very average everyday people and how easy it is to go along with things because “everyone was doing it” and how it can be turned on to another person and then another person.

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The film also can be seen as showcasing the cyclical nature of bullying. Where Laura was once the victim, now her spirit is tormenting people using methods reminiscent of what was done to her. Along with this are brief moments that are evocative of real life cases of cyber bullying and suicide, such as a glimpse of a video made by Laura that is very similar to one made by Amanda Todd, a Canadian girl who committed suicide in 2012.

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Unfriended isn’t a perfect films by any means, there are certainly cheesy moments typical of any modern horror. However I do think that it is interesting in the way that it works as a cautionary tale, showing in a very extreme way consequences of teens’ actions online and will make people think twice before they hit "send".

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