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What ‘Unfriended’ Can Teach Us About the Aesthetics of Realism

One man’s spectatorial freedom is another man’s terrifying desktop horror film.
Unfriended Internet Horror Movie
Universal Pictures
By  · Published on May 24th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about what the 2014 cyber horror film Unfriended can teach us about André Bazin’s concept of cinematic realism.

Levan Gabriadze‘s 2014 horror film Unfriended ticks two different boxes when it comes to “challenging cinema.” But, if you’re the right kind of film freak, that’s exactly what you love about it.

If you’ve been hanging around the horror sections of your local streaming services lately, you’ll have noted the arrival of a new, ooky spooky subgenre that brings found footage into the digital age. The action of desktop horror films takes place entirely within a computer screen, emulating technological immersion with dragging cursors, alarming pop-ups, and frantic scrolling. Desktop horror films include the likes of The Collingswood Story (2006), The Den (2013), Ratter (2015), and most recently, Host (2020).

Unfriended follows a group of six teens who receive a Skype message from a classmate who committed suicide the previous year. Shenanigans ensue, but I dare not spoil the film’s haunting surprises. Rather notoriously, Unfriended thoroughly commits to the limitations of its desktop premise, cluttering the screen with files, windows, and oodles and oodles of terrifyingly tense dead time.

Personally, I’ve always had a bit of a bias against desktop films, in part because they tend to stink of a kind of “New Media” gimmickry. However, as the video essay below lucidly demonstrates, Unfriended is up to something else, adopting the visual language of the desktop to update and transform the classical aesthetics of realist cinema, from long takes to deep focus, to spectatorial freedom. Who’d have thought? A desktop horror film is kind of the perfect way to learn about film theory.

Watch “Unfriended (2014) and Andre Bazin’s Realism“:

Who made this?

This video essay about Unfriended and André Bazin’s film theory is by Jordan Schonig, who holds a Ph.D. in Cinema and Media Studies from the University of Chicago. They are a Film Studies lecturer and make video essays on, what else, film. You can subscribe to Schonig on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.

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Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.