Unfriended (2015) – Levan Gabriadze

Unfriended_Poster

A successful horror movie is a very fragile thing. So much can go wrong that will spoil the effect. One of the best pieces of advice I could give a horror filmmaker (from the perspective of an asshole critic with no experience whatsoever) would be to keep the narrative simple. As a member of the audience, getting bogged down with a complex or convoluted plot distracts me from the feeling of fear. If I have to stop to remember who that character is or wonder why they’re doing something, it takes me out of the moment. And that simplicity is the main strength of Levan Gabriadaze’s 2015 offering Unfriended.

The film is no masterpiece, but it certainly achieves what it sets out to do. Just think I Know What You Did Last Summer meets Blair Witch, but on a computer. Unfriended is part of a modern sub-genre of the Found Footage movement. The whole thing takes place on the computer screen over a series of Skype video chats, emails, Facebook messages and YouTube videos. The point of view is that of our main character Blaire. We’re seeing her screen out of her own eyes. So we see what she sees, types, reads, etc.

Unfriended_blender

Throughout the film, Blaire chats with her friends in a group video chat but they soon realize that there is an unwanted visitor online with them. They can’t seem to get rid of this person and unexplainable things start to happen like messages from a dead friend’s Facebook account. And things just escalate from there. As the film unfolds, we see this group of friends unravel as strange events take place and deceptions and betrayals are exposed.

And that’s it. That’s the whole movie. It’s admittedly gimmicky, but it sticks to a very simple formula that gets the job done. I actually thought the acting was pretty spot on. Most of which is just a group of teens reacting to various frightening things they’re seeing over each other’s webcams. The dialogue seemed pretty realistic to me, but there are a few cringe-inducing moments where it becomes painfully clear that the writer is not a 16 year-old girl.

Unfriended_chat

I’m not sure if the Unfriended is meant to be a commercial for Skype or Google products, or if it’s supposed to be a morality tale about cyber-bullying. And while it’s not the scariest film I’ve ever seen, it was fun to watch and it held my attention for 82 minutes, which is not an easy thing to do these days. Maybe it was the constant switching of windows, opening of new tabs, sending of messages, switching of Spotify songs, etc. – so reminiscent of how we actually spend time on computers – that helped this film progress despite simple plot.

Is it scary: 3 – There are some spooky scenes and there’s a growing feeling of suspense throughout but nothing that will keep you up at night.

Originality: 5 – This one is tough. It’s a spin-off of Found Footage and we’ve even seen this kind of thing before (Open Windows). Still, I think we’ll see more of this format based on this film’s execution.

Blood: 2 – Almost no blood. There are just a handful of violent scenes and only one or two even actually show anything explicit.

Believability: 8 – Overall, I thought the writing and acting were on point. I felt like the film was happening right on my computer screen.

Setting/Cinematography: 5 – Again, this one was tough to score. There really was not much setting to speak of and the cinematography was intentionally limited to webcam footage. I think a solid 5 is fair. Like taking a college course Pass/Fail.

Final Score: 23/50

unfriended_blair_scream

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House of the Dead (2013) – Uwe Boll

House of the Dead_Poster

It’s a pretty well-established rule that movies based on video games are shit. There’s really no beating around the bush. There are, of course, exceptions Silent Hill, for example. Then there are terrible films that have gained a cult following (Super Mario Brothers). But for the most part, video game films are uninspired and really just made to cash in on the popularity of the game. Enter House of the Dead, Uwe Boll’s 2003 adaptation of an admittedly cool arcade zombie shooter. This movie is in the running for the worst film I’ve ever seen. I mean that with no sense of hyperbole.

The House of the Dead game was one of the ones where you got to hold the gun and actually shoot at the screen. (Hang on to that image, because we’ll be back to it shortly). Now, I have to admit that I pumped my fair share of quarters into this game back in the day. And while there may have been some kind of story to go along with the zombie carnage, it was not one that stuck with me through the years. I basically remember a haunted house scene where zombies and ghosts would stagger down a hall towards you and throw axes and such and try to eat you. Then you blasted their faces off until your allowance ran out.

House of the Dead_Video Game Scene

Regardless of where it came from, the plot that made it to the film is ludicrous. A group of college kids hitch a boat ride to a remote island for a rave (this “rave” consists of sixteen 30-year-old college students dancing in the woods). On this island they find — you guessed it — the House of the Dead. I wont spoil too much but we do find out the source of the supernatural forces behind the zombies. And it’s a pirate curse. I’m not big on Twitter, but I think I’m going to start using #piratecurse. Like all the time.

Ok well let’s get down to it. House of the Dead fails on basically every front. It is a staggering failure, and one that astonishingly launched the career of the director Uwe Boll to a new level. The script is like the first draft of a freshman film student banged out the night before it was due. We have poor attempts at humor: “Muerte is Spanish for death, in case you don’t speak Mexican.” (That line was actually one of the Shining Lights of the film). The characters are utterly flat and one-dimensional. The only character’s name that I actually remembered through the film was the Asian raver chick in a spandex American flag jump suit named Liberty.

House of the Dead_Liberty

Aside from the narrative problems the technical aspects of HotD are abysmal. They actually edited short clips from the actual video game into action sequences. Several times. It almost feels like they were trying to prove something. “See, this scene comes from the game!” Also, I’m a guy who loves to watch zombies get their heads shot off, maybe more than anybody. But there are a few LONG action sequences that really just feel like treading water.

Is it scary: 1 – I mean, there are dead bodies walking around for 90 mins, but really, if you’re not in diapers, this won’t scare you at all.

Originality: 1 – It’s a very spot-on adaptation of an unoriginal video game. So…

Blood: 6 – It’s pretty gory, even though the blood in the shots from the game is green.

Believability: 0 – Every inch of this thing screams illogical and ridiculous.

Setting/Cinematography: 1 – Uwe Boll uses lots of gimmicky spinning camera shots that are supposed to be reminiscent of the game, but they just don’t translate well to the big screen. Also the house itself is just tacky and unconvincing. It felt like of Legends of the Hidden Temple.

Final Score: 9/50

House of the Dead_Zombie Lick

So what’s the verdict? Don’t even bother watching this film. It’s not “so bad it’s good.” It’s just so bad it’s bad. Like unwatchable.