The film premiered at the Fantasia Festival on July 20, 2014, and at SXSW on March 13, 2015. It received a theatrical release on April 17, 2015. The film, which is told almost entirely through a high school student's MacBook screen, stars Shelley Hennig as one of several friends who find themselves terrorized online by an anonymous person. The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics, and grossed $64 million against a $1 million budget.
In Fresno, California, a high school student named Laura Barns is relentlessly bullied after a video of her passing out and defecating herself at a party is uploaded to YouTube without her consent, causing her to fatally shoot herself in public, with a video of her suicide appearing on LiveLeak. About one year later, her former best friend Blaire Lily is in a Skype chat with her boyfriend Mitch Roussel, during which they agree to lose their virginities to each other on prom night. Shortly afterwards, they are interrupted by their classmates Jess Felton, Ken Smith, and Adam Sewell. The group notices a user named "billie227" in their chat, who was not invited by any of the participants. After unsuccessful attempts to disconnect the user, the entire group suspects their classmate Val Rommel is pranking them.
After they invite Val to their chat, Jess's Facebook page is updated with racy photos of Val at a party. Jess states she did not upload the photos and deletes them, but the pictures reappear on Adam's account. "billie227" then posts a video of Laura Barns recording a video similar to that of Amanda Todd's, which took place in real life. Val calls the police to report online abuse, and signs off Skype. Blaire is sent a link to a screenshot of a past message in which Val told Laura to kill herself. Val is suddenly brought back into the chat, in a laundry room next to an open bottle of bleach, sitting so still the group initially believes the video is frozen but then is shown falling to the floor. The five classmates soon learn that Val is dead, presumably from drinking the bleach, and that the police have ruled it as a suicide through the police codes they overhear through Skype. Ken manages to remove "billie227" from the chat, but "billie227" resurfaces with a camera view from across his room and disconnects his webcam. Shortly after, it reconnects to show Ken being attacked by an unseen force and he is shown shredding his hand in an active blender, then Ken's Skype goes black. It then turns back on, showing Ken smashing the blender and shoving his throat onto the blades, killing himself.
"billie227" forces the remaining four classmates to play a game of Never Have I Ever, stating that the loser of the game will die. All four classmates are forced to reveal largely personal secrets which put their relationships with each other on the rocks: Jess spread a rumor that Blaire had an eating disorder; Blaire crashed Jess' mother's car while drunk; Mitch reported Adam to the police for selling marijuana, which almost got Adam disowned by his father; Mitch also reveals that he kissed Laura behind Blaire's back shortly before her suicide; Jess stole $800 from Adam and Adam himself offered to trade Jess' life for his own. Adam finally loses his temper and uses the game to force Blaire to reveal that she is no longer a virgin, having had sex with him twice behind Mitch's back, with "billie227" uploading a YouTube video which proves the claim. Mitch retaliates by forcing Adam to admit that he gave a fellow classmate named Ashley Dane roofies at a party, date-raped her when she was unconscious and forced her to get an abortion when he discovered that she was pregnant.
Shortly after, Blaire and Adam receive messages sent remotely to their printers. Mitch demands that Blaire reveal her note and threatens to leave the call if she does not. "billie227" messages Blaire and tells her that Mitch will die if he leaves. In a moment of panic, Blaire shows her message on the paper: "If you reveal this note, Adam will die." Adam is forced to shoot himself in the face, and the camera reveals his note: "If you reveal this note, Blaire will die." "billie227" then cuts the power to all the lights in Jess's house and disconnects her video feed. Soon after, Blaire receives a video of Jess freaking out and blood on the door, she also receives a video of Jess with a curling iron forced down her throat.
"billie227" then messages Blaire and Mitch, wanting them to confess who uploaded the video in the first place. Blaire tries to deny any involvement from Mitch but eventually reveals that he was the one who posted it. Mitch immediately grabs a knife and stabs himself in the eye. "billie227", now unveiled as Laura herself, asks for one more thing. Blaire desperately tries to remind Laura of their friendship while she was alive. Laura then uploads a different version of the video which caused her to commit suicide, revealing that Blaire is the one who recorded it. The video is then uploaded onto Facebook through Blaire's profile feed showing everyone what Blaire had done, resulting in people leaving angry and disgusted comments of Blaire's actions. Laura says that she cannot forgive Blaire and what she has done will live on the internet forever. Laura signs off and leaves her alone for a moment. Then Blaire's bedroom door creaks open and a pair of hands slam her laptop shut. Laura lunges at Blaire, presumably killing her. Afterward, Laura gives the camera an unleashed scream.Shelley Hennig as Blaire Lily
Moses Jacob Storm as Mitch Roussel
Renee Olstead as Jessica "Jess" Felton
Will Peltz as Adam Sewell
Jacob Wysocki as Ken Smith
Courtney Halverson as Valerie "Val" Rommel
Heather Sossaman as Laura Barns
Mickey River as Dank Jimmy
Cal Barnes as Rando Pauls
Matthew Bohrer as Matt
Christa Hartsock as Chatroulette Girl
Gabriadze was attracted to the project (then titled Offline) as it focused on the theme of bullying. He noted that the nature of bullying had changed since he was in school, as the Internet allowed for bullies to continue their actions even after school hours.
Production was 16 days total, including six 12-hour days of principal photography, three days of pick-ups and then a few more reshoots. When filming began, it mostly consisted of long takes around ten minutes in length. Shelley Hennig, who portrayed Blaire, found that this proved difficult for the energy and motivation needed from her and the other actors. At her request, at least one full, 80-minute-long take was filmed, with each actor in separate rooms with separate computers. The film's ending was captured during one of these feature-length takes.
The film's title changed during shooting (and would also change prior to its theatrical release), as the film's crew felt that the title of Offline was "too general and not obvious" and that the then title of Cybernatural was "more to the point of what it is". For wide release, the film was re-titled Unfriended.
Unfriended initially had its world premiere on July 20, 2014 at the Fantasia Festival and screened on the film festival circuit under the title of Cybernatural. A generally positive film festival reception and test screenings for the film prompted Universal Pictures to pick up the film rights with the intent to give it a wide theatrical release the following year. The film's title was changed from Cybernatural to Unfriended and the film was theatrically released on April 17, 2015. The film was screened at Playlist Live on February 6, 2015 and premiered at SXSW on March 13, 2015.
In July 2014, a teaser trailer was released with scenes from the film. The teaser shows the original title of the film which at the time was Cybernatural. On January 12, 2015, the film's first official trailer with the title Unfriended was released. Shortly after, on February 6, 2015, the film was screened at Playlist Live, a popular convention for internet celebrities from Vine and YouTube. Images were also released.
On February 13, 2015, a campaign was launched with Kik Messenger, in which Kik users could have a chat conversation with Laura. This made use of automated responses and pre-scripted responses, while also driving users to a dedicated microsite.
On March 13, 2015, after the film's premiere at SXSW, an after-party was hosted by Blumhouse. Exclusive Never Have I Ever cards were released at SXSW later, and a "NEVER HAVE I EVER" section was set up on the film's official website. Unfriended-themed photo booths were set up as well During production, official Facebook and Skype accounts were set up for the characters in the film, and, after the premiere at SXSW, people who attended were "friended" by the official Laura Barns Facebook account. There was also a Twitter account, which tweeted attendees of the after-party.
Unfriended was released on DVD and Blu-ray on August 11, 2015. It received a Netflix release in May 2017.
Unfriended has grossed $32.5 million in North America and $31.6 million in other territories, for a worldwide gross of $64.1 million against a budget of $1 million.
In North America, the film opened simultaneously with Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 and Monkey Kingdom on April 17, 2015, across 2,739 theaters, earning $6.8 million on its opening day. In its opening weekend, Unfriended earned $15.8 million, which was higher than its $12 million range projection, and finished in third place at the box office behind Furious 7 ($29.2 million) and fellow newcomer Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 ($23.8 million). Its opening weekend is the biggest debut for an original horror movie since The Conjuring, which opened with $41.9 million in July 2013.
Unfriended received mixed reviews from critics. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 62%, based on 156 reviews, with an average rating of 6/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Unfriended subverts found-footage horror cliches to deliver a surprisingly scary entry in the teen slasher genre with a technological twist." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 59 out of 100, based on 30 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Reception at the Fantasia Film Festival was mostly positive. Common praise for the film centered upon its acting and visuals, and Twitch Film commented that the film was an "interesting look at modern methods of communication and the ramifications of the new normal of always-on social interaction." Variety commented that while the film was "exasperating" at points, they also felt that it was clever and innovative.
Dread Central also praised the film overall, but stated that they felt that the movie's one major flaw was "the fashion in which we are trafficked to each scare- through multi-screen clicking, copying, pasting and re-sizing, basically all-around multi-tasking. It can be trying to sit through and I liken it to sitting over someone's shoulder watching them web-surf... endlessly." It was named Most Innovative Film at the Fantasia Film Festival and received a Special Mention for Feature Film.
British film critic Mark Kermode gave the film a positive review, calling it a film which understands Skyping culture and cyber-bullying. He said, "Many people who've seen the trailer say, 'You're being stalked through the internet. Just log off.' The point is they can't because they're addicted." While on one hand admitting it was a "shrieky, teen-terrorized, slasher movie," on the other hand he said it was a film about how cyber-bullying only works if you cooperate with it.
Irish film critic Donald Clarke, writing for The Irish Times, gave the film a very positive review, describing it as "genuinely unsettling" and praising the filmmakers' "uncanny grasp of the complicated dynamics of contemporary interaction" and how they succeeded in "[retaining] a position on the moral high ground while bloody mayhem rages around their feet".
Brad Jones and David Gobble gave the film a very negative review, referring to it as repetitive, irritating, unoriginal, and insufferable. They said that it is based entirely on an awful gimmick. Gobble called it the third worst film of 2015, after Do You Believe? and War Room. Some critics found the film to contain unintentionally amusing moments that detracted from the experience. Lou Lumenick of the New York Post and Lauren Chval of RedEye found that the film's scenes involving Blaire's pleas for help on Chatroulette, as well as some of the phrases typed by Laura's ghost (including "but in this version [of a drinking game], the loser doesn’t drink. The loser dies.") to be more humorous than frightening.
In CinemaScore polls conducted during the opening weekend, cinema audiences gave Unfriended an average grade of "C", on an A+ to F scale.
In April 2015, it was announced that Universal Pictures had greenlit a sequel, tentatively titled Unfriended 2.