#NotBlessed

#Horror

by Hope Madden

Simultaneously spoiled and neglected, handed every luxury imaginable and then abandoned to do with their time what they will, a group of 12-year-old girls at a sleepover pay the price for a too-modern childhood.

Loosely inspired by true events, #Horror tracks the evolution of the mean girl. Between cyberbullying and online gaming, one pre-adolescent clique elevates their coming-of-age angst into a post-modern horror show.

Writer/director Tara Subkoff populates her soullessly luxurious world with bizarre and arresting visuals, and her cast – both the seasoned adults and the mostly unknown child performers – offer a range of unique and compelling performances. The atmosphere created is so detached, stylized, and surreal, you can imagine almost anything happening.

Subkoff has provocative things to say about coming of age, and though none of them are entirely novel, she wisely avoids one-sided arguments. Yes, the five 12-year-olds ultimately blame their selfish, negligent parents for their own fucked-up-edness, although the film’s heroine Sam, (Sadie Seelert) chooses to reject her loving and protective mother in favor of the attention of her new school’s mean girl circle.

Subkoff’s film is at its best when it drops you into the undercooked logic of a child.

“Nothing is mean if you laugh,” explains a genuinely earnest and confused Cat (Haley Murphy). And that’s really the point of the film: kids are stupid, parents are blind, the world offers more immediate and accessible dangers than ever before, and that time between childhood and adulthood is a haze of misunderstood circumstances and unavoidable selfishness.

Chloe Sevigny and Timothy Hutton are over-the-top wonders, both horrifying yet wonderful in their own way, but Subkoff’s real victory is her ability to capture, with the help of a game pre-adolescent cast, the combination of cynicism and playfulness that marks these particular girls’ youth.

The horror story is a tad thin – derivative, even – but what Subkoff, her visual panache and her cast manage to do with it keeps you intrigued and guessing for the full 90 minute run.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

Read Hope’s interview with director Tara Subkoff HERE.

Curse of the Digital Native

Unfriended

by Hope Madden

Director Levon Gabriadze, with serious help from screenwriter Nelson Greaves, has managed the unmanageable. His entire film Unfriended is seen from a laptop screen, yet never gets visually dull and never feels limited by the gimmick.

More than that, his film is immersed in the digital-native culture without seeming forced or hokey. Without ever feeling like a stunt – a story in service of a device rather than vice versa – Unfriended tells a cautionary tale that’s topical, current and smart.

Five high school friends mindlessly Skype on the anniversary of their friend Laura’s suicide. Laura had been the victim of cyberbullying, and not only is her humiliation still available online, so is her suicide. Such is the horrifyingly public world of today’s teen.

The gang can’t seem to get rid of an anonymous 6th in their hangout, and little by little the presence evolves from annoying to aggravating to terrifying.

Greaves’s script is smart. There are flashes of other films – The Den, Paranormal Activity 4 and others – but Unfriended never feels stale. Greaves’s language is so unsettlingly familiar, and he makes some important points without even approaching a preachy tone.

It’s a set of familiar ideas – vengeance, guilt, betrayal, cowardice – wrapped in a very shiny new package, and it’s the wrapping that could have really gone wrong, but Gabriadze succeeds in filling the screen with enough to look at, enough virtual action to keep your attention.

He builds tensions through a truth or dare style game that provokes the friends to turn on each other, but the film has more empathy for the characters than the run of the mill slasher. The five actors manage to flesh out dimensional characters with the slightest material to work with, and each feels realistically flawed yet sympathetic.

It’s a fascinating choice because the whole film flirts with the ugly “they aren’t bad kids” excuse you hear every time a 7th grader is filmed being gang raped or an autistic child’s bullying goes viral.

These five don’t think they’re bad people. They certain seem like nice enough, likeable enough teens – to everyone except that creepy lurker on their screen.

Verdict-3-5-Stars