The horror genre is no stranger to scary technology, from the rogue TV channel of David Cronenberg's Videodrome to the deadly computer virus of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse. As people begin to live more and more of their lives online, the Internet has come to represent a powerful and often frightening force. The graphic violent content available on sites like LiveLeak has made real-life horror easily accessible, and cyber-bullying and harassment has caused a rash of high-profile suicide cases.
Both of the aforementioned modern horrors come into play in Unfriended, a 'cybernatural' horror movie that takes place entirely on the laptop screen of teenager Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig). Blaire's classmate Laura committed suicide after an embarrassing video of her was posted online, and on the anniversary of her death a normal Skype call between seven friends takes a turn for the weird and frightening.
Unfriended was written by Nelson Greaves (Sleepy Hollow), directed by Levan Gabriadze (Lucky Trouble) and produced by Timur Bekmambetov (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). Upon completion the film was picked up by Jason Blum's production company, Blumhouse Productions, and premiered at Fantasia Festival last summer. After it pleased both crowds and critics on the festival, Universal Pictures (with whom Blumhouse has a first-look production deal) picked Unfriended up for wider release.
Blumhouse is responsible for some of the most successful new horror franchises of the past decade, including Paranormal Activity, The Purge and Sinister. To celebrate the home video release of Unfriended, Screen Rant spoke with Blum himself to find out what made this experimental new horror film the right fit for Blumhouse.
How did you first come across Unfriended, and what appealed to you about the idea?
Timur [Bekmambetov] showed me a rough cut of the movie - I think it was some time last summer - and what interested me about it the most was, I'd never seen anything like it before. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and it was new, and one of the criteria for me that's most important for me of getting involved in stuff is to feel like someone is trying something different, and this certainly did.
Unfriended's format is similar to found footage movies like Paranormal Activity, in the sense that it doesn't use traditional filmmaking techniques to draw the audience's attention to certain things on the screen. In films like this, how does the director guide the viewer's eye?
Well I think one of the unusual things about Unfriended, different from found footage, is that the audience is kind of [the] director... When we were sinking our teeth into the movie, I always talked about it like someone who was directing a live television show, like looking at multiple monitors and they point to the monitors to say, 'Go to one, go to three, go to two.' And it feels like you're kind of doing that when you're watching Unfriended. You're deciding where to look... If you see it multiple times you catch a lot of different things, because depending where you're looking on the screen there are different things happening... Obviously there's a reason that everything exists and they've paid a lot of attention to detail.
One of the things I really love about it is that the audience is directing the movie by deciding where to look, which I think is kind of great.
After producing so many horror movies yourself, do you still get scared by them?
I do. It's hard, and it takes a lot, but I do still get scared and I do still jump. But my tolerance is definitely built up, for sure.
Do you think what people get scared by changes over time? Are we culturally developing to be immune to certain scary things?
I definitely think it's changing. And it continues to change, I think, by what's going on in the world. The Purge is a good example of that, The Purge is particularly haunting because of what's going on in the world, and then Unfriended is the next iteration... It's kind of a better example than The Purge of how technology lets people into your house, let's strangers into your house, in a really, really profound way. I think that's what Unfriended's about. And I do think what scares people changes with the times, for sure.
Do you think horror movies have to be scary in the moment, or it is it better to try and leave people feeling disturbed afterwards?
Ideally we want both. Ideally we want people to be scared while they're watching them, and then think of stuff later on and be scared again. I like people to be scared at all times [laughs].
Blumhouse doesn't produce a great deal of remakes or reboots, you seem to be mainly focused on original ideas. Is that deliberate?
I don't have anything against remakes, we've done a few. I did a movie called The Town that Dreaded Sundown. But we do low-budget so that we can try and take risks and spend a lot of time on originals, so we make a lot of originals for that reason. I think, more often than not, you have a better chance of surprising people with originals. But there are some great remakes too, I have nothing against - you know, some people are very anti-remake, and I have nothing against it.
Do you have a favorite moment in Unfriended?
I really love the set-up, because I think it's really relatable and really haunting, so the opening of the movie is my favorite part.
Do you have any plans for a sequel?
No current plans, although I would never say never. We talked about a couple of ideas of what a sequel could be, but we're not for sure doing one. But I wouldn't say we're not for sure not doing one either.
Would you be interested in producing another movie with this same format again, the computer screen, or do you think it's a one-time thing?
I think you could do it. I mean, you could also do different genres, you could do comedy in that format. There's nothing on our slate now that is, but I would definitely be open to it. I think there's a lot more you could do with that format.
Unfriended is available now on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD.