Unfriended, or Two or Three Things I Know About Her Facebook Profile

8 01 2016


The cluttered frame of this movie-on-a-laptop-screen can’t quite hide the fact that our Skyping and Facebooking protagonists, persecuted on the Internet by a vengeful spirit, will – if they die – die alone. Most horror films, in one way or the other, are about loneliness. Even those about groups of youngsters, like many slashers, are really about the whittling down of their numbers. Near the end of such movies, only one or two usually remain. The real horror is being left alone. But in this case, our heroes are alone from the outset, each inside his or her own room, and all it takes is a bad connection to sever what binds them together. They can’t come to each other’s aid, since they’re too far away. In fact, they can’t even move: if they leave their rooms, says the spirit, they die, so they have to remain seated while yet another Skype window winds down.

Nevertheless, this is not (only) another technophobic dystopia about how, in the era of interconnectedness, we’re less connected than we’ve ever been. It is cautious and pessimistic, sure, but it expresses that caution through uninhibited immersion into what it’s cautious about. That is, through deep familiarity with the subject. The filmmakers don’t wish to turn back the clock and do away with our technological toys. If that were to happen, there would be no movie and, more importantly, no audience to watch it.

The online environment of social media might be banal and commonplace to us, but it becomes alien and strange in this film, which uses the language of this environment, the loading screens and message alerts, the stuttering videos and pixelated cam feeds, to fulfil the requirements of the genre, for suspense and dread. Actions we perform every day are appropriated by the plot and milked for dramatic effect. Suddenly, these actions no longer seem purely utilitarian but hide more sinister possibilities. The movie-on-a-laptop-screen isn’t new: earlier examples include critical, experimental shorts like Transformers: The Premake. What’s more novel is how the online environment is resignified through horror genre tropes and expanded as a surface of expressive possibility.

Significantly, the vengeful spirit roams the online wilds because that is where she was shamed and bullied in the public forum of social media, which led her to commit suicide. What the film says, then, is not that we’re disconnected in the era of interconnectedness, but that, maybe, we’re too connected, not just to each other but to everything all of us ever do, to our pasts, accumulating in the endless, stupid, unfiltered archive of the Internet. As the bodies pile up and friendships are nipped in the bud, the real bogeyman becomes not the vengeful spirit but the endless exposure of our virtual selves, the collection of videos and photos and text messages that roam undeleted from one browser window to the next, waiting for another Google search. Our protagonists become not just strangers to their friends, but to themselves: they can hardly control their unruly online reflections, which outlive them in the form of a digital afterlife. Phrases like “In Real Life” no longer make any sense. What happens online doesn’t stay online and is very much real life. It’s so important, even, that it must be filmed, somehow. It cannot be ignored by cinema, because this new environment is, also, a new home for cinema itself and for the traffic of images.




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