The Daily Stream: Screenlife Horror Unfriended Is The Underappreciated Gem Of The Sub-Genre

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Unfriended"

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: The 2014 screenlife horror shows us a night in the life of a teenager named Blair (Shelley Hennig), who spends an evening at home on her computer video-chatting with her group of snarky, biting friends. The digital hang-out coincides with the one-year anniversary of the day when one of their peers, an ostracized girl named Laura, took her own life following a series of difficult bullying scenarios. During their at-times silly and grating post-school call, it becomes increasingly clear that the Skype session is being haunted by an entity that means them harm, but who also wants them to admit to their wrongdoings from the year prior.

Why it's essential viewing

If you're not into screenlife horror, turn back now, but if I haven't yet scared you away, I'm here to tell you that "Unfriended" is an underrated and underappreciated horror gem. The movie premiered at Fantasia Festival in 2014 — so despite its big-budget release with Universal, it had small-time festival beginnings, which is undeniably intriguing.

Right off the bat, something needs to be addressed: Yes, the screenlife tactic in "Unfriended" works, and is actually pretty freaky. Audiences are plunged into the perspective of Blair, the lead character, and are subject to all of her private movements and musings via her laptop. It's an interesting way to bring us into the character's perspective without forced exposition; For example, it makes sense that she would guiltily be rewatching the video of her friend's suicide—as gruesome as that is—so the exposition is built-in for us without forcing anything on the viewer. From there on out, the details are sparse, but on purpose, as the film is trying to forge a trail of breadcrumbs for the audience to follow as the movie moves through its acts. Further, the film cements itself against screenlife and found footage conventions that don't always work, namely "Why are they still filming?"

The last piece of the puzzle that makes the movie work: the performances. Across the board, the mostly unknown set of actors portraying a group of nasty teenagers nails the tone of this film, and elevates it from being a tacky, overwrought, and typical portrayal into something all the fouler in its specificity. They're both similar to and grittier than any teenage friend group you know or knew in the past, and that aids to the movie's overall offensive tone. Plus, the kids handle the scares quite well, and their performances push the film into terrifying territory just as easily as they would have ruined all the good scares.

Between the smart portrayal of screenlife horror and the film's impressive performances, you might find yourself actually freaked out—or at minimum, at least a bit unsettled—by the terror of "Unfriended." Thankfully, you can give it a watch knowing that Skype isn't popular anymore. Phew.