I almost never watch horror movies (unless they are scary without the use of excessive blood or violence). I do, however, watch around an hour of YouTube videos a day. And if you’ve been watching any amount of YouTube for the past month or so, you’ve probably seen an ad for a little film called Unfriended.
Unfriended, directed by Levan Gabriadze, tells the story about a group of teens during a Skype conference call gone bad. The spirit of Laura Barns, a teenage girl who commits suicide after a video of her passed out at a party goes viral, invades the conference of the people who supposedly uploaded the viral video and promises to kill each of them if they sign off. What follows is a digitized version of And Then There Were None, where teens are killed in many different, horrific ways; some of which involve a semi-truck and one guy wriggling and glitching about as if he was in a Kayne West music video. There’s also a plain-looking girl who screams so loud and hysterically with every murder you would think that she was auditioning for Toddlers with Tiaras.
I was able to write up the summary above not from a random Wikipedia article but from my own memories of constantly watching the commercials before every YouTube video I watched (or at least what I could gather before I hit the skip button). The commercials were indeed vicious; nearly every video I watched for the past month had some form of the trailer beforehand. And rather than hyping me up for the film like a good trailer and marketing strategy is supposed to do, it killed any amount of interest I had of watching the film.
Granted, I didn’t have much interest in the film to begin with. But I became so disgusted with the ads that I just got sick of the whole thing.
By far the biggest trap that the ads fell into was that it revealed too much of the film’s plot. Film trailers work well when they only plant a few seeds of intrigue in the viewer’s brain that grow over time. In the trailer for Jurrassic Park (1980’s), for example, they only showed bits and pieces of the CG dinosaurs, focusing only on the actors’ reactions to the creatures. This increased audience’s intrigue in the film; and when they finally saw it, the dinosaurs could be even better enjoyed in all of their glorious and terrifying CG glory.
Unfriended tries to do this with its death scenes, but it still lays out all of its other cards on the table. We already know about the found-footage vibe of the film, we already know all of the characters and who they are, and we already know that a bunch of spooky and gruesome things are going to happen to them. Of course, it doesn’t help that the film looks so formulaic. Even though they don’t show all of the ways that the characters die, the deaths they do show are explicit enough that we can still guess how everyone else is going to die based on our knowledge of horror films and how people generally die (dismemberment, getting hit by semis, being a dumb teenager, etc.).
Another trap is that people don’t usually come to YouTube to watch ads all the time. If I just want to watch JonTron, PeanutButterGamer, Caddicarus, or some silly video about cats, I don’t want to see images of teenagers dying beforehand. That just spoils the mood. The repetition of the ads and our feelings towards it is so frequent that we eventually associate the ads, and the movie as a whole, with feelings of disgust and annoyance. If Pavlov can teach a dog to salivate to the tone of a bell, than we can click “skip” to the sound of a screaming teen.
I guess it’s clever to have a movie about the internet have most of its advertising on the internet, but not when it’s so rampant that it interferes with my viewing experience. If you enjoy Unfriended, then good for you. I wish I could see and enjoy every movie ever. But as it stands, I simply don’t think Unfriended is worth my time. The ads have burnt me out that badly.