John Cho, Michelle La, Debra Messing
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…speaks uncomfortable but necessary truths about the Internet age in a way that forces the audience to pay attention.
In 2014, Timur Bekmambetov helped produce a film called Unfriended. While both critics and audiences took note of its unique computer screenshot style, at a time when the Paranormal Activity wave of found footage horror was nearing its end, there was a definite feeling that this was an idea that could be expanded upon. Bekmambetov himself not only produced Unfriended’s sequel as well as directing a similar Twitch-esque production, Profile, earlier this year, but has also put his name to this particular feature; one that takes every seed of promise that Unfriended hinted at and, guided by writer/director Aneesh Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian, allows them to fully blossom.
The approach to storytelling, where we are shown everything in the narrative through computer screens, allows for a lot of breathing room despite the constricted framing. While keeping the audience largely anchored to the perspective John Cho’s David, we are given a rather all-encompassing view of the world around the disappearance of David’s daughter Margot (Michelle La). Most of it is deliberately focused on, like the live news casts reporting on the events and the social media reactions to them, while some of it is added texture in the background, like how David’s email is full of people thinking he is the one responsible and telling him so in varyingly vitriolic fashion. It’s the kind of intricacy and attention to detail that not only makes for a very involved movie-going experience – with how tight the tension is kept throughout the entire film – but one that warrants repeated viewings just to pick out more of the smaller details.
Of course, repeated viewings require the first viewing to be worth the time, and considering the subject matter, this absolutely delivers on that. The script shows an eerie understanding of the way we use social media, from how it connects people continents-apart to each other to how that very connection can make us think we know far more about complete strangers than we actually do. Not only that, it delves into how what is said online and what is said offline is rarely a complete overlap. Even what isn’t said can tell a lot about a person. That physical vs. digital distance can make certain things easier to express, whether it’s grief, dissatisfaction, or just a need to connect with someone. For better and for worse, some things are far easier to do from behind a keyboard.
But beyond being an effective primer for how social media has transformed human socialisation, it’s also a look at relationships, both in and out of cyberspace, and how they are rarely as simple as they appear on the surface. Or even from a great distance.
This thriller takes a relatively familiar premise and, through a highly creative production style and outstanding performances from Cho, Debra Messing as Detective Vick and Michelle La as Margot, speaks uncomfortable but necessary truths about the Internet age in a way that forces the audience to pay attention. Because some footage needs to be found.