Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Leo Gabriadze|
|Written by||Nelson Greaves|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$64.1 million|
Unfriended is a 2015 American found footage supernatural horror film directed by Levan Gabriadze, written by Nelson Greaves, executive produced by Jason Blum, co-produced by Adam Sidman, and produced by Greaves and Timur Bekmambetov. The film is shot as a computer screen film. The film stars Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, and Courtney Halverson as high school students in a Skype conversation that is haunted by a student, played by Heather Sossaman, who was bullied and committed suicide.
The film premiered at the Fantasia Festival on July 20, 2014, and at SXSW on March 13, 2015. It received a theatrical release on April 17, 2015. The film, which is told almost entirely through a screencast of a high school student's MacBook screen, stars Shelley Hennig as one of several friends who find themselves terrorized online by an anonymous person. The film received mixed reviews from critics and was a massive box office success, grossing $64 million against a $1 million budget.
High school student Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman) commits suicide after an anonymous user uploads a video of her passing out and defecating at an unsupervised party, and the video goes viral. One year later, her former childhood best friend Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig) is chatting with her boyfriend Mitch Roussel (Moses Jacob Storm) on Skype, during which they agree to lose their virginities to each other on prom night. Soon after, they are joined by their friends and classmates Jess Felton (Renee Olstead), Ken Smith (Jacob Wysocki), and Adam Sewell (Will Peltz), and an unknown user known as "billie227".
The gang tries various ways to get rid of the intruder but are unsuccessful each time. Blaire looks up the account and realizes that it belonged to Laura Barns, revealing "billie227" as Laura. The gang suspects that a classmate named Val Rommel (Courtney Halverson) is pranking them. After they invite Val to their chat, Jess' Facebook page is updated with racy photos of Val at a party. Jess denies uploading the photos and deletes them from her account, but the pictures reappear on Adam's account. Val calls 911 to report that she is being harassed, then abruptly leaves the chat. They each receive a link of an Instagram post showing a photo of Val and Laura's messages from before Laura's death, with Val telling Laura to kill herself, this causes her Facebook friends to turn against her. Val is suddenly brought back into the chat, sitting still next to a bottle of bleach before collapsing. From the police presence on the audio link, they deduce that Val died from a presumed suicide. Ken uses a program to remove "billie227" from the chat, and Adam attempts to call the police. However, the 911 operator on the other end turns out to be the intruder and re-enters the chat, revealing a camera view which appears to come from the other side of Ken's room. He approaches the camera source, but his Skype is disconnected and reconnects showing him having a nervous breakdown, putting his hand inside an active blender before stabbing his neck with the blades.
"billie227" forces the remaining four friends to play a game of Never Have I Ever, stating that the loser will die. They are forced to reveal hurtful secrets which reveal their backstabbing against each other: Jess spread a rumor that Blaire had anorexia; Mitch cheated on Blaire with Laura; Blaire stole and crashed a car that belonged to Jess' mother; Mitch reported Adam to the police for selling marijuana (for which Adam was nearly disowned); and Adam offered to trade Jess' life for his own. An argument ensues between Adam and Mitch. Adam finally loses his temper and uses the game to force Blaire to reveal that she is no longer a virgin, having slept with him twice behind Mitch's back. "billie227" then uploads a video to YouTube which proves the claim. Mitch retaliates by forcing Adam to admit that he forced a classmate named Ashley Dane to abort a pregnancy incurred by a date rape he committed using roofies at a party. Blaire and Adam then receive messages sent to their printers which they refuse to show to Mitch and Jess. Mitch threatens to leave if Blaire does not show the note and "billie227" warns that Mitch will die if he signs off. In a moment of panic, Blaire shows her paper which states: "If you reveal this note, Adam will die." This causes Adam to shoot himself, revealing he had the same note except it was for Blaire.
"billie227" then says that the game is still on and asks whether anyone has defaced Laura Barns' grave. When Blaire convinces Jess not to continue playing, "billie227" cuts the lights in Jess's house and disconnects her video feed. Blaire looks for help on Chatroulette and has a stranger send police to Jess' house. Soon after, Jess' Skype reconnects showing her with an activated curling iron forced down her throat, killing her.
“billie227” suddenly cuts the lights in Blaire’s and Mitch’s houses, then messages Blaire and Mitch, wanting them to confess who uploaded the video. Blaire considers denying involvement but eventually tells her that Mitch was the one who posted it. Mitch grabs a knife and stabs himself in the eye. “billie227” thanks Blaire, but then says she wants her to do one last thing for her and begins counting down again. Blaire attempts to remind Laura about friendship, but Laura then uploads an extended version of her video which reveals Blaire was the one who recorded it. Blaire’s Facebook friends then turn against her for good, leaving angry and disgusted messages. Laura says what Blaire has done will live online forever and wishes she could forgive her, before signing off Skype. Blaire’s bedroom door creaks open and a pair of hands slam her laptop shut. Laura’s spirit violently lunges at Blaire as the screen cuts to black implying that Blaire has been killed by Laura but the cause of her death was unknown.
- Shelley Hennig as Blaire Lily
- Moses Jacob Storm as Mitch Roussel
- Renee Olstead as Jess Felton
- Will Peltz as Adam Sewell
- Jacob Wysocki as Ken Smith
- Courtney Halverson as Val Rommel
- Heather Sossaman as Laura Barns / "billie227"
- Mickey River as Dank Jimmy
- Cal Barnes as Rando Pauls
- Matthew Bohrer as Matt
- Christa Hartsock as Chatroulette Girl
- Konstantin Khabensky as Police officer (uncredited)
Gabriadze was attracted to the project (then titled Offline) as it focused on the theme of bullying. He noted that the nature of bullying had changed since he was in school, as the Internet allowed for bullies to continue their actions even after school hours.
Production was 16 days total, including six 12-hour days of principal photography, three days of pick-ups and then a few more reshoots. When filming began, it mostly consisted of long takes around ten minutes in length. Shelley Hennig, who portrayed Blair, found that this proved difficult for the energy and motivation needed from her and the other actors. At her request, at least one full, 80-minute-long take was filmed, with each actor in separate rooms with separate computers. The film's ending was captured during one of these feature-length takes.
The film's title changed during shooting (and would also change prior to its theatrical release), as the film's crew felt that the title of Offline was "too general and not obvious" and that the then title of Cybernatural was "more to the point of what it is". For wide release, the film was re-titled Unfriended.
A deleted scene featured Jess being pulled away, presumably Laura's spirit. Laura then proceeds to physically abuse Jess by the clicks of a cursor all within Jess's Facebook profile. The scene ends when Laura takes a saw and chops one of Jess's hands off. The scene was later scrapped as it "didn't fit with the horror theme".
Unfriended initially had its world premiere on July 20, 2014, at the Fantasia Festival and screened on the film festival circuit under the title of Cybernatural. A generally positive film festival reception and test screenings for the film prompted Universal Pictures to pick up the film rights with the intent to give it a wide theatrical release the following year. The film's title was changed from Cybernatural to Unfriended and the film was theatrically released on April 17, 2015. The film was screened at Playlist Live on February 6, 2015, and premiered at SXSW on March 13, 2015.
Unfriended was heavily marketed online, with 60% of the marketing budget being spent on digital platforms.
In July 2014, a teaser trailer was released with scenes from the film. The teaser shows the original title of the film which at the time was Cybernatural. On January 12, 2015, the film's first official trailer with the title Unfriended was released. Shortly after, on February 6, 2015, the film was screened at Playlist Live, a popular convention for internet celebrities from Vine and YouTube. Images were also released.
On February 13, 2015, a campaign was launched with Kik Messenger, in which Kik users could have a chat conversation with Laura. This made use of automated responses and pre-scripted responses, while also driving users to a dedicated microsite.
On March 13, 2015, after the film's premiere at SXSW, an after-party was hosted by Blumhouse. Exclusive Never Have I Ever cards were released at SXSW later, and a "NEVER HAVE I EVER" section was set up on the film's official website. Unfriended-themed photo booths were set up as well. During production, official Facebook and Skype accounts were set up for the characters in the film, and, after the premiere at SXSW, people who attended were "friended" by the official Laura Barns Facebook account. There was also a Twitter account, which tweeted attendees of the after-party.
Home media and streaming
Unfriended grossed $32.5 million in North America and $31.6 million in other territories, for a worldwide gross of $64.1 million against a budget of $1 million. Deadline Hollywood calculated the net profit of the film to be $17.1 million, when factoring together all expenses and revenues.
In North America, the film opened simultaneously with Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 and Monkey Kingdom on April 17, 2015, across 2,739 theaters, earning $6.8 million on its opening day. In its opening weekend, Unfriended earned $15.8 million, which was higher than its $12 million range projection, and finished in third place at the box office behind Furious 7 ($29.2 million) and fellow newcomer Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 ($23.8 million). Its opening weekend is the biggest debut for an original horror movie since The Conjuring, which opened with $41.9 million in July 2013.
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 62% based on 178 reviews, with an average rating of 5.95/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Unfriended subverts found-footage horror clichés to deliver a surprisingly scary entry in the teen slasher genre with a technological twist." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 59 out of 100 based on 30 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Reception at the Fantasia Film Festival was mostly positive. Common praise for the film centered upon its acting and visuals, and Twitch Film commented that the film was an "interesting look at modern methods of communication and the ramifications of the new normal of always-on social interaction." Variety commented that while the film was "exasperating" at points, they also felt that it was clever and innovative.
Dread Central also praised the film overall, but stated that they felt that the movie's one major flaw was "the fashion in which we are trafficked to each scare- through multi-screen clicking, copying, pasting and re-sizing, basically all-around multi-tasking. It can be trying to sit through and I liken it to sitting over someone's shoulder watching them web-surf... endlessly." It was named Most Innovative Film at the Fantasia Film Festival and received a Special Mention for Feature Film.
British film critic Mark Kermode gave the film a positive review, calling it a film which understands Skyping culture and cyber-bullying. He said, "Many people who've seen the trailer say, 'You're being stalked through the internet. Just log off.' The point is they can't because they're addicted." While on one hand admitting it was a "shrieky, teen-terrorized, slasher movie," on the other hand he said it was a film about how cyber-bullying only works if you cooperate with it.
Irish film critic Donald Clarke, writing for The Irish Times, gave the film a very positive review, describing it as "genuinely unsettling" and praising the filmmakers' "uncanny grasp of the complicated dynamics of contemporary interaction" and how they succeeded in retaining "a position on the moral high ground while bloody mayhem rages around their feet".
Some critics found the film to contain unintentionally amusing moments that detracted from the experience. Lou Lumenick of the New York Post and Lauren Chval of RedEye found the scenes involving Blaire's pleas for help on Chatroulette, as well as some of the phrases typed by Laura's ghost (including "but in this version [of a drinking game], the loser doesn’t drink. The loser dies."), to be more humorous than frightening.
In April 2015, it was announced that Universal Pictures had greenlit a sequel, tentatively titled Unfriended 2. In October 2017, it was announced that the film was shot secretly and the film’s working title would be Unfriended: Game Night. On March 9, 2018, the film’s official title revealed to be Unfriended: Dark Web. The film was released on July 20, 2018.
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- Unfriended at Box Office Mojo
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- on YouTube
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- Romano, Nick. "Unfriended 2 Is Happening, Who Knows What Social Media Horrors Await". Cinema Blend. Retrieved May 17, 2015.
- Miska, Brad. "First Details on 'Unfriended: Game Night' [Exclusive]". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
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