Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Cyber Horror: Unfriended vs. The Den

Both Unfriended and The Den use a similar style of storytelling to tell very different stories: a supernatural story of murder and teen drama and the other a story of more realistic murder. We'll see which one will come out on top. These reviews contain spoilers.

* Unfriended

Blaire's best friend Laura committed suicide last year after an embarrassing video was uploaded onto Youtube. Blaire and her friends are trying to have a normal Skype conversation when a weird account won't leave them alone. They suspect it's a prank when photos of her friend Val surface drinking and smoking at a party, but realize it's serious when Val signs off to call the cops and then ends up dead supposedly by suicide. The night gets progressively worse as this unknown person plays sick games, reveals all their secrets, and kills them one by one.

Unfriended has an interesting and atypical format. The whole story is told through Blaire's computer screen. We see everything she sees on her screen. As the movie moves along, it becomes clear that the friends are being haunted by Laura's spirit and she wants revenge for her humiliation and her suicide. The transition from annoying hacker to evil spirit was a little abrupt and it might have been a little more effective to play with the uncertainty a little more before defining it as supernatural. I like that this movie shows the evils of technology. Anyone's mistake can be posted online and it will never be deleted ever. This is especially toxic for teens who will then be cyberbullied by merciless trolls on the internet who make it their life's work to make people miserable. Many teens have committed suicide because of situations like this.

The only other good parts are a few scares and kills, but the rest of the film is textbook slasher film dreck mixed in with pointless privileged teen drama. All of the teen's deep dark secrets are aired for all the world to see and then immediately killed before suffering the consequences. All of the characters were annoying  and I didn't care when they died. Mitch, Blaire's boyfriend, was the most insufferable of all. He kept focusing on the stupid drama and overreacting over his girlfriend's infidelity when people are being murdered all around him. Get your priorities straight, dude. The film feels like it drags way too much for a run time less than 90 minutes. The very ending is incredibly cheapened by one last, unnecessary jump scare.

My rating: 6/10 fishmuffins

* The Den

Elizabeth just got a grant to study the habits of webcam chat users from a university. Everything is going well even with the weirdos on the site until she witnesses a girl brutally murdered. She tries to get an investigation started, but everyone dismisses it as a prank. She continues her project, but she's plagued by harassing messages, account hacks, and escalates friend's and family being attacked. The police finally help her, but it seems it's too late. These assailants are everywhere she turns and manipulate her every move.

The Den is similar in style to Unfriended. All the footage is taken from webcams, digital cameras, and cell phones. Much of the film takes place right on Elizabeth's laptop screen where she does her research recording hundreds of conversations with hundreds of people on a Chat Roulette type website. The first half hour does a great job of setting up the story and just giving us the tiniest glimpse of the killer in a burlap mask. This killer infiltrates Elizabeth's life, hacking into her computer, making it look like her friend committed suicide, attacking her pregnant sister, and putting cameras in her house. One particularly chilling scene has one of the assailants return to the crime scene to retrieve his camera with police everywhere. He simply goes in, bags the camera, says some insensitive things to Elizabeth's sister, and leaves with no one noticing. The suspense is masterfully built up and culminates in a crazy finale with twist and turns. It's revealed that some faceless organization finds a girl, harasses her, victimizes her family, kidnaps her, and kills her all on camera for the entertainment of a paying audience on the deep web. Who knows how big this organization is or how many people it employs. The burlap mask for the assailants is perfect because the organization really is faceless and it doesn't really matter who is behind the mask because they seem to always have more people even if one or two die.

The overall message of the film speaks of the dangers of the internet, anonymity, and the deep web, but it's not as strong as Unfriended's message. People face harassment and the embarrassment of their online secrets and mistakes every day. People are not murdered for deep web entertainment every day. I also didn't like that everyone around Elizabeth simply dismisses her problems. Her bosses don't even take the time to hear her out before shutting down her project when hacking is a legitimate problem. The police dismiss her a few times even though her boyfriend being missing without any notice is a legitimate problem. Other than that, the film was enjoyable and suspenseful.

My rating: 8/10 fishmuffins

Verdict: Unfriended, while the inferior and more infuriating film, has a better, more relatable message. The Den is a better, more well crafted film that succeeds in being really creepy, but the message falls a little flat.

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