When the trailer for “Unfriended,” the upcoming teen horror movie about cyber-bullying, came out earlier this year it generated a whopping 261,941 Twitter comments in its first day. That’s more than blockbusters-to-be “Avengers: The Age of Ultron,” “Furious 7” and “Jurassic World” drew, so it naturally raised some eyebrows.
“Unfriended” isn’t going to hit $200 million when Universal opens it in wide release on April 17, and it probably won’t turn into a franchise, either. But it should open to somewhere between $15 million and $20 million if the traditional tracking numbers are correct. That means its oversized social media profile will have translated and it will be a moneymaker given its micro-budget.
“Unfriended” is a hot topic online because that’s where it’s set — and what the plot is about. In the film, written by Nelson Greaves and directed by Levan Gabriadze, a teen girl and her friends are targeted for vengeance after a shaming video leads to the death of a vicious cyber bully named Laura Barnes.
The horror film speaks in the language of the Millennial generation that it targets — Twitter, Facebook, Skype, Instagram and Spotify — and that has made it very relatable. There’s also a voyeuristic element, since the action largely plays out on computer screens.
“It might sound a little gimmicky, but we didn’t take subject matter lightly,” said Heather Sossaman, who plays the cyber bully Laura. “If you read the reviews, a lot of them point out that it wasn’t what they expected. It doesn’t just present the issues from a horror perspective; we tried to make it realistic and provide an insight into the characters’ minds and inspire people to think.”
The combination of timely topics such as cyber-bullying and teen suicide, along with the film’s use of social media as both medium and message, have created a mountain of momentum online for “Unfriended.” But making a social media splash doesn’t always mean it will be a box office winner.
While “The Purge” and “The Fault In Our Stars” turned online buzz into breakout success, it didn’t help the teen-targeting “Vampire Academy” or “Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.” The most recent movie to over-index online was “The Duff,” a high-school comedy that did better than expected for CBS Films after mobilizing teen girls with a sharply focused social media push.
Being a horror film gives “Unfriended” a boost, since it will lure guys too. And there hasn’t been a scary movie in the marketplace since February.
“Unfriended” had its world premiere last year at the Fantasia Festival, when it was known as “Cybernatural.” At Universal, which picked it up after the film received an enthusiastic reception there and in subsequent screenings, it came under the aegis of Blumhouse Productions. Jason Blum came aboard as a producer, along with Timur Bekmambetov.
“I just saw the movie over the summer, actually, and loved it,” Blum said in a recent Nerdist interview. “But one of the reasons I did love it, I responded to it, was you felt like you were getting between someone and their computer. To me, sadly, I think kind of one of the most intimate relationships we have right now is with our electronic devices — our computer, our phone, whatever it is.”