Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard// Film Critic
The following was originally posted on VeryAware.com
Cyber-bullying is a hot topic in this country so it’s only natural that horror movies begin reflecting the zeitgeist. In director Leo Gabriadze’s UNFRIENDED (formerly titled CYBERNATURAL), a group of teens – including Blaire (Shelley Hennig), Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm), Adam (Will Peltz), Val (Courtney Halverson), Jess (Renee Olstead) and Ken (Jacob Wysocki) – has the tables turned on them when Laura (Heather Sossaman), a classmate they may or may not have cyber-bullied into killing herself, cyber-bullies them from beyond the grave. What ensues is a deadly game until one of them starts spilling their guts (figuratively and literally).
At the freaky film’s recent press conference in Los Angeles, the cast, along with producer Jason Blum and writer Nelson Greaves, shared a few fun facts to go along with those frights.
10. UNFRIENDED was shot almost like a play. While it was actually Hennig’s idea to shoot the film all in long takes, it was Greaves who says he wrote it thinking it was a play. “I understood it was going to be real-time and it was going to be like a play – with the same logic challenges that come up. We were in a single house and we turned each room of the house into a different kid’s bedroom. We designed this system where they can all see each other, hear each other and hear us as well. But they were locked alone in their room by themselves for 85 minute. We would do takes of it that were the entire lengths of the film.” Halverson says she found the long takes and the filming process incredibly liberating. “I came from theater so I loved improv and being able to do these long takes. In any other format, you’re not allowed to do that a lot of the time. There’s very little room to do a 30 minute, 85 minute take. We were allowed to play a lot more.” Wysocki agrees, “Most of the stuff I’d done before, you don’t really get to riff and play with it. This was my first opportunity to let loose.” Peltz, however, had a different reaction to Hennig’s brilliant idea. “I got the most mad. I was trying to get everyone to say it’s a bad idea. I do have to admit, she was right.” Hennig says, “I was just confused as to why we weren’t doing it in one take. It was worth a shot. Starting and stopping with these emotional scenes was more challenging.”
9. Courtney Halverson thought they were the good kids and Laura was the bully. When the cast members filmed UNFRIENDED, they had the impression Laura was the bully the entire time – which isn’t exactly so, as it turns out when you watch the final product. “This is probably because the character of Laura Barnes really evolved over the editing. Initially, we were under the impression we were the good kids and Laura was the bully and what happened to her was a tragedy, but she had always been horrible to everyone. Us being the bullies and the problems didn’t come until afterwards. I think that happened organically.”
8. The script for UNFRIENDED changed over time as improv was happening. Greaves says, “There were times the cast would grab on and go their own way – sometimes we’d let them go and sometimes we’d call them back in. It was a lot of organized chaos.” Henning adds, “The technology was incredible. Nelson and Leo played the bully in our earpieces and would guide us through the scenes. We did the movie in one take, many times. He’d send us a new message on the computer that would cue us and react organically.” Storm adds, “They did everything to keep us on our toes – from introducing new story elements to never saying the same thing twice.”
7. The “Never Have I Ever” game sequence was written on-set. Greaves says, “We re-wrote it completely the morning before we shot it.”
6. Will Peltz lost his voice. Though Hennig said, “throat tea,” was her savior, Peltz said he lost his voice. “I did a lot of yelling so I lost my voice almost every day. They were long days. You see the intensity – and we had to go through the entire thing. Once I die, I was like, ‘Finally!’” Storm adds, “That was just the work schedule – we had to work until we couldn’t anymore. You’re dizzy after takes.”
5. The cast decorated their own rooms in the house. Halverson states, “I placed all the towels lovingly in the laundry room. The continuity on them were awful. I’m actually folding their son’s laundry.” Wysocki was in a shed in back of the house – a shed containing an odd item. “There was a bunch of notebooks that had a lot of strange short stories [the owner] wrote. You can see me in the movie, thumbing through these things. There’s some strange shit about him wanting to fuck a tiger – some really weird stuff.”
4. Jacob Wysocki collaborated on his character’s death. He explains, “I know for sure, my death wasn’t supposed to be the death it was. The character originally was a fat slob, always eating chips and candy bars. I was like, ‘I don’t want to do that. That’s not what fat people do. I don’t just sit at home and drink milk.’ I wanted to depart from that. Nelson wanted some specific aspect of me eating food. One of us was like, ‘What if I made my own salsa and there was a blender in the room. And since there’s a blender in the room, that’s how we came up with blender death.” Storm mentions he had different versions of the same death. “The whole movie was a trial and error process. So much was improvised and try stuff out and let stuff fail. The deaths were part of that.”
3. The cast mates are all still BFF’s! Halverson says, “We have this group chat that’s been going on for two and a half years now – it’s mostly emojis at this point. Even in the film, if you watch, we’re texting each other during takes.”
2. There’s an “Easter Egg” in Blaire’s computer tabs. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice before the terrorizing begins that she’s got a few tabs open on her desktop; Jezebel, Forever 21 and MTV’s Teen Wolf – the show Hennig stars on. Greaves chose those. “Those were me.”
1. There’s loads of additional footage. Greaves states, “Whenever you’re doing something new like this, the only way you can learn certain lessons is by trial and error.” Halverson says, “We shot my death a bunch of different ways. There was a point where I had my head inside a washing machine. I had glass in my mouth. There was one point where I sprayed blood. Because we shot so many different versions, it’s kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure. They could probably re-cut it and make a comedy out of it.” Wysocki adds, “I honestly think there’s 12 different versions of this movie that we filmed. Like completely different narrative turns. My character changed several times during filming – because the plot was changing, the characters were changing.
UNFRIENDED is now available on DVD/ Blu-ray.