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Watch Unfriended before it leaves Netflix this spooky season

Better yet, watch it on a laptop or tablet

The kids in Unfriended play Never Have I Ever. Image: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Pete Volk (he/they) is Polygon’s Senior Curation Editor, with a particular love for action and martial arts movies.

[Ed. note: If you are reading this after Oct. 15, Unfriended is no longer on Netflix. But good news, movie watcher with good taste! It is now on the Criterion Channel, and available on VOD.]

Cinema’s screenlife subgenre, where the events of a movie largely take place online, and the story plays out on a computer, tablet, or smartphone screen, has become an emerging method to depict the unique anxieties of modern life. The format — something of a descendent of and replacement for the found-footage fad — is especially well-suited to thrillers and horror stories, as seen in 2023’s great mystery Missing, a follow-up to 2018’s Searching.

While screenlife fiction really started at the turn of the century (the 2000 Franco-Belgian film Thomas in Love is generally considered the first screenlife feature), it was the 2014 horror hit Unfriended (produced by Night Watch and Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov, who coined the term “screenlife”) that really brought this style of filmmaking into the mainstream. It was a great test case: This movie rules. It’s been on Netflix for a while now, but its last day on the platform is Monday, Oct. 16, and you should absolutely watch it this spooky season.

In Unfriended, a group of high-school friends catch up via Skype. One of their fellow students recently took her own life after being bullied at school, and their call is interrupted by a mysterious persona implying that the friends had a hand in her death. This invader threatens them and holds them hostage on the call — until they start dropping off one by one, with some horrifying imagery.

The teens in Unfriended start to panic on their call Image: Universal Pictures

Unfriended is a tense movie that makes great use of the screenlife gimmick, keeping viewers firmly within the boundaries of a MacBook owned by protagonist Blaire (Shelley Hennig, Teen Wolf). The movie deftly uses familiar modern visual and audio cues: Mouse cursors blink expectantly. Users type out initial responses to events, delete them, and retype more tactful or cautious messages before finally sending them. And notification pop-ups and familiar app interfaces help immerse the audience in the movie’s world, and draw attention to different parts of the screen. The game cast also includes future Polygon favorites Moses Storm (Players) and Jacob Wysocki (arguably the funniest recurring star of the Dropout universe).

There’s also a 2018 sequel to Unfriended, Unfriended: Dark Web. That one is also very good, and it sheds the original movie’s supernatural trappings in favor of a more grounded mystery. If you’re interested, that one’s streaming on FreeVee.

This is your last weekend to watch Unfriended on Netflix — but don’t watch it on your TV. That’d be letting yourself off easy. Instead, watch the movie on a laptop or tablet to more fully immerse yourself in its drama and horror. I watched it for the first time on a laptop in a coffee shop, and I could not possibly recommend that experience more highly. You will never look at your laptop — or a Skype call — the same way again.

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