The evolution of social media has impacted more than just how people connect with each other. It’s also crawled its way into major motion pictures and television, drastically changing the way these stories are told.
A perfect example of a film that incorporates a variety of social media elements is Unfriended, one of the latest modern horror flicks. It is a successful one at that, having earned a whopping $17,626,550 worldwide as of April 21.
Unfriended is told entirely from the screencast of Blaire Lily, a high schooler in Fresno, California, on the anniversary of Laura Barns’ suicide. Laura had previously been a close friend of Blaire’s but killed herself after an unknown source posted an embarrassing video of her online. Throughout the remainder of the night, Blaire, her boyfriend Mitch, and friends Val, Jess, Ken and Adam all Skype together, only to be confronted by an anonymous online user demanding to know who posted the video of Laura. Strange, terrifying things happen as the truth about each character is revealed.
So what makes the movie so popular? Many claim it’s the way Unfriended digs deeper into the life of a modern teenager, a life where social media and technology are used regularly without another thought. Unfriended creatively uses social media tools (with the help of fairly good acting) to unravel a plot that keeps audiences on their toes. Below are some of the websites and programs Unfriended uses throughout the film and how they work in successfully telling the story.
Facebook was heavily used throughout Unfriended. Facebook private messaging is how the anonymous user (whose identity is assumed to be Laura Barns) first contacts Blaire and how they communicate with each other throughout the remainder of the movie. Using Facebook also helps provide insight into the relationship Blaire and Laura had before the suicide through the “see friendship” feature. On Facebook, this feature allows users to view all of the statuses and photos both friends are involved in. Letting audiences see the previous relationship between Blaire and Laura is a different way of giving a backstory or using the flashback method. Facebook
Skype plays one of the largest roles in Unfriended. In addition to being a means for the visual jump scares and action scenes, incorporating Skype helps the audience familiarize themselves with the characters and their relationships to one another. In some ways, using Skype for character development in Unfriended was even more effective than normal methods, like third or first person voice overs. This is because the audience is able to get a raw feel for each character, as they (like anyone else) are the most vulnerable in this particular setting: alone at night in their room. Other aspects of Skype used are the Skype file share and Skype Instant Messenger, both of which the anon takes advantage of to expose the five friends.
The main use of Spotify was to provide some creepy, comic relief. The anon would often play music in relation to what was going on in the movie. For example, as it exposed each of their dark secrets, it plays a song about lying that Blaire is unable to pause or turn down. Before things get weird, however, Blaire uses Spotify normally. Her alternative choices of music give more insight into who she is.
During one of the many intense scenes of the films, Blaire becomes absolutely desperate for help. As opposed to calling the police herself (which previously failed), she consults Chatroulette, a webcam based website that pairs you with random strangers. It takes her a while, but she finally finds someone who is willing to call 911. Things like this are sometimes seen in normal horror movies. The damsel in distress will run for help (or even call the police) but things never work out in time. Chatroulette was probably an ineffective means for getting quick assistance, but it was still interesting to see it used in the movie’s context.
On the side of the Skype call, Blaire uses the Apple chat feature, iMessage, to talk to her boyfriend Mitch away from everyone else. In addition to Skype and Facebook, the movie’s use of iMessage allows the audience more insight into their relationship and a truer understanding of how they view their “friends”. It’s also an excellent parallel to real life as a teenager. iMessage comes with iPhones and Mac computers and according to the New York Daily News, over 60% of teens owned an iPhone as of last year. It’s very possibly that iMessage is used more regularly than any other social media tool in Unfriended.
Much of Unfriended‘s backstory comes to the audience from YouTube. An embarrassing video of a drunken Laura Barns leads to her recorded suicide, both of which are posted to YouTube and LiveLeak, a similar website. These visuals are hard to watch, but again, it’s more effective at providing the audience the information they need to understand the story.
By using all of these social media tools, Unfriended successfully manages to modernize horror movies and revolutionize the way visual media tells stories. The fact that teens can now relate so well to the characters based on how they connect, makes Unfriended that much scarier.