Over the past few years, Jonah Hill has tried to prove himself as a dramatic actor. Meanwhile, James Franco continues to dabble in stoner comedies and dramatic literary adaptations. These two buddies in real life, now take on a crime story that played well at this past Sundance film festival.
Mike Finkel (Hill) was a successful journalist working at the New York Times until he was caught fabricating a story. As he falls on hard times, he is informed that a convict in Oregon just claimed to be him. This convict, Christian Longo (Franco), is imprisoned for allegedly killing his wife and three kids. As Finkel visits Longo, he soon realizes that Longo’s story, as ugly as it is, may be the key to finding credibility in the literary world again. However, the longer that Finkel listens to Longo’s side of the story, the more he starts to believe that he may be innocent.
True Story starts off with a disturbing jolt. It unsettles you immediately, as it shows an unconscious todder laying in a suitcase. It’s one of those images that you just can’t shake. Because of that, you hate Christian Longo. That hatred continues throughout the movie. Successful crime dramas convince you that nothing is as it seems. While you may originally have a suspect in mind (see also: Gone Girl), you will start to blame everyone else before the truth is revealed. True Story doesn’t have that depth.
Franco’s performance does nothing to make Longo sympathetic. With Franco’s showing his typically smug behavior, you can’t wait for him to get justice. He may have been a driving force in getting this movie made, but he is all wrong for the role. Franco has become one of those actors who finds success by playing himself. Unless he’s playing Alien in Spring Breakers, and the less said about that travesty, the better.
Jonah Hill is serviceable in the role. Yet, it seems like he’s trying to play a serious actor, rather than just acting. Finkel is so desperate for redemption that he is willing to make Longo’s story bigger than it is. As the movie progresses, you realize that both men are unreliable narrators.
True Story hints that these two men might be physiologically linked in strange ways, but then drops it entirely. As these two men speak, there is nothing special to the conversations. There is no feeling of tension, disgust or fear. It merely seems like Franco and Hill and practicing for a stage play. Let’s be honest, these two guys were probably doing their best to not bust up laughing.
Felicity Jones stars as Finkel’s wife. Other than being worried about her husband, there is very little for her to do. She has one pivotal scene with Franco, which ends up being the most memorable of the movie. Even in her small role, she shows her superior acting ability over that of Franco and Hill.
True Story manages to be watchable. I feel that any glossing over the plot could have been overcome by better actors. C+
Every few years, someone tries to inject some originality into the horror genre. This happened with remakes of Japanese horror flicks unknown to most western audiences. It also happened with found footage horror movies. Horror often works because it is so predictable. We want to be shocked, but also know that we’ll safely get off the rollercoaster at the end. Changes are always welcome, until they wear out their welcome.
Unfriended adds a layer to the implausible found footage medium by containing the events to one computer monitor. For the entire 82 minute running time, you sit watching someone’s Macbook, only blown up to a 22×52 foot screen. Now, before you scoff, here’s the weird thing… It actually works.
You see the events develop from the Blaire’s (Shelley Hennig) laptop. She and her boyfriend are talking over Skype, when a group of friends also joins the conversation. These high school aged kids don’t have much to say, they just want to shoot the breeze. Only, they soon bring up the fact that it’s the one year anniversary of their friend Laura’s suicide.
Through the use of YouTube and other streaming sites, you see what led to the suicide. Without wasting any time, someone starts communicating through Skype, Facebook and chat to the group under the guise of the deceased Laura. This group automatically feels as if they’re being pranked, but soon, they start dying one by one.
Unfriended is a good experiment in filmmaking. It has an uphill battle with its stupid premise. Somehow, the gimmick works.
Blaire browses the internet, flicks through Facebook pages, chats and skypes. The narrative moves at the speed at which young millenials act online. You are put in Blaire’s internet psyche as she types out a chat response, then considers it, deletes it and writes a different message. Unfriended also delves into the intrusion and violation you feel when someone messes with your information.
Familiar horror tropes are rewritten for this generation. Instead of having a standard horror movie moron go outside “to check out a noise,” Unfriended will have this type of character say “I’m just gonna open this mysterious email” as the friends urge him not to.
It should be noted that Unfriended is not scary. There is not a manipulative score, which is refreshing. You will recognize the droning sound that was trademarked by the Paranormal Activity series. The scariest parts, funnily enough, come from notification pop-ups on the computer screen. You immediately laugh at yourself for jumping and being sheepish about a new email in the inbox.
Instead of actual terror, Unfriended relies on tension. As the situation gets more dire, these teens just scream at each other. I actually got to the point where it I didn’t care if anyone died, but I actually wanted them to die. That’s malicious to be sure, but there was no one to relate to and they are quite annoying.
If you’re going to see Unfriended, don’t expect to be scared. Just know that from a filmmaking point of view, they nailed an original concept. I’m sad about the inevitable Vine horror flick that’s sure to follow. B-