Log Off And Die: The Unfriended Movies Are The Perfect Quarantine Horror Double Feature

Log Off And Die: The Unfriended Movies Are The Perfect Quarantine Horror Double Feature

Winston Cook Wilson

Forgive the gimmick and enjoy these well-made films

When Unfriended hit theaters in 2014, it felt like something both fresh and totally ridiculous. Directed by largely unknown Russian director Levan Gabriadze, the B-horror flick takes place entirely on a high schooler’s laptop screen; its scenery is largely Skype, Facebook, and YouTube windows. Ominous incoming-message ellipses create a healthy chunk of the drama. Grossing $64 million on a $1 million budget, you’d think it might have signalled a new horror subgenre, along the lines of the found-footage movement, but it didn’t quite hit the mark. (The only major film to adopt its techniques to date has been 2018’s Searching, an archetypal looking-for-one’s-kidnapped-daughter thriller; imagine a Harrison Ford or Liam Neeson movie if they were forced to use Twitter hashtags and were also John Cho.)

Six years later, though, it’s easy to wonder if Unfriended’s model will become the new wave out of necessity. Whether or not the movies represent the future we are destined for, Unfriended and its more conceptually elaborate 2018 sequel Unfriended: Dark Web certainly resonate in a new way during the current moment. The web interfaces may be already dated, but the Macbook claustrophobia is more relatable than it ever has been. The movies exploit the simultaneous feeling of intimacy and uncanny distance that is central to the video chatting experience. And in both movies, the villains exploit the chat format to prevent the ensemble casts from connecting with anyone offline.

But don’t worry, these movies are more fun than triggering, as long as you can handle jump scares—relatable only in a funny way. The original Unfriended goes down pretty easily, given its reliance on over-the-top supernatural elements. Here’s the main thing you need to know: Facebook and Skype are haunted. Messages from a dead girl keep popping up in the DMs of Blaire, a suburban high schooler, and eventually spread to her friends as well. Buttons that usually block users and delete posts disappear. Skype’s gray default avatar becomes one of the movie’s most chilling phantom. There’s a great complication involving Chatroulette that is designed to make you nervously shout at the screen.

The cast of characters is as annoying, cocksure, and horny as one would expect. The class clown, Ken, loves ripping dank bowls. Don’t rip them too hard, Ken, we think, or the Skype demon will make you suicide. The main ghost is pretty irritating and holier-than-thou, and does things like blast songs about lying on Spotify to underline her point: don’t cyberbully, especially in secret. If Ken is too high, or if Blaire and her boyfriend Mitch are too eager to protect each other, then haunted Facebook is likely to post some crazy shit to your wall that you can’t delete. None of this should work at all, but trust me, it’s pretty tight.

If you can get into Unfriended’s kitschy tone and clever plotting, you should definitely move onto Unfriended: Dark Web, but proceed with caution. The 2018 followup is a heavier and more topical affair (Trump era and all that, you know what I mean?), and therefore, more accidentally silly. It centers around a crew of young adults instead of high schoolers as they uncover the secrets behind a stolen laptop full of encrypted secrets. In what may be one of the greatest opening sequences in any movie ever, the protagonist, Matias, tries to guess the computer’s password by trying out “password,” “feelthebern2020,” “bigdick69,” “covfefe,” and more. Things just get more absurd from there.

As the drama progresses, the humor becomes increasingly unintentional, which is definitely more fun. Blockchain and Silk Road are explained like occult rituals in a possession flick. (The name “Ethereum” is invoked like it’s the name of an archdemon.) Somehow hackers can turn themselves into fields of eerie digital distortion on laptop cams and make the Facebook incoming message noise sound like a synthesizer melting. But thanks to a Hitchcockian turn involving a hacker stalker—in which a Cards Against Humanity game is used as a major tension-building device—the film takes some rewarding and harrowing turns. I’d take Dark Web’s pulpy take on troll chaos over Black Mirror’s preachiness anyday.

One of the most evocative elements of the Unfriended movies is the fact that the bad guys never let their victims log off. This results in the film’s particular brand of terror, conveyed through unflattering webcam close-ups of bleary-eyed faces bathed in blue light. So yes, the framing of these movies will definitely feel close to what you were probably doing before throwing it on (a Zoom dinner party, perhaps?) Still, they don’t really channel the realities of the current moment. The real-life terror we’re currently immersed in feels too weird for horror and too unflashy for sci-fi, and makes past pandemic thrillers feel dated. The darkest element of watching the Unfriended movies in 2020 is thinking about whether, soon, its DNA will show up in all new movies.

Downtime is brought to you by Jambys, a company that makes really soft boxers with pockets. Use code downtime for 15% off your first order, and we'll use that money to hire more cool writers and make more cool stuff.