Ghost in the Machine

Online, anyone can stream your scream

Cybernatural

Unfriended

Starring Shelley Henning, Heather Sossaman, Matthew Bohrer, Courtney Halverson, Moses Jacob Storm & Renee Olstead

Directed by Levan Gabriadze

R

Hackers, spammers, scammers, trolls and identity thieves can make going online pretty scary, right?

You’ll have even more reasons to fear clicking and scrolling when you watch this freaky-fresh take on a classic horror-movie standby—teenagers in peril—seen entirely through the perspective of a character’s laptop computer screen.

In Unfriended (originally titled Cybernatural), a group of high school friends having an online chat notices an anonymous, lurking intruder on their call. Ominously, it’s on the anniversary of the suicide of Laura Barnes, one of their classmates, who took her life after being victimized by cyber bullying. Then weird things start to happen: The friends can’t boot the lurker off the line; other web5713_FPT2_00024 pages malfunction; unsettling messages begin coming in—and they say they’re from Laura.

“Something srysly wrong,” types one of the chatters. Indeed it is, and it’s about to get much wrong-er…srysly.

Director Levan Gabriadze takes what might have been a gimmick—the computer-screen format—and totally makes it work. We see everything as the character of Blaire (Shelley Henning, Malia on TV’s Teen Wolf) sees it, does it and experiences it. We watch as she moves her cursor around the web—Skype, Facebook, Google, Gmail, Spotify. We follow each click as she types, enters a command or searches frantically for answers. We read, as she reads, messages as they come in, often bearing hair-raising news. We watch, as she watches, terror contort her friends’ faces—and her own—in the windows of her screen.

Computer viruses never seemed so dangerous; a hovering cursor over a link can be a thing of wrenching suspense; that spinning “beach ball” icon becomes not just maddening, but positively malevolent.

Can their late classmate really be taunting them, and haunting them, from beyond the grave? What role did each of them play in her death? What other terrible secrets might be buried—online or elsewhere—just waiting to be brought to light?

5713_FPT2_00101_000123_COMP cropWhen things turn nasty—and they do—the gore is seen as either on a terrifying, in-and-out, glitch-y pixelated webcam connection, or via attachments that the teens have opened to view. The audience, like Blaire, never knows what’s going to pop up on the screen. Our eyes, like hers, are glued.

It’s a nifty-nightmare premise for an online-saturated culture, so much so it’s a wonder someone hasn’t done it already. It taps into several themes—the illusion of online privacy; the “permanence” of online content; the compliance of everyone who creates, uploads, downloads or even views material on the web; the evils of cyber-bulling; how social media has supplanted so many other former means of communication, information and interaction.

Unfriended delivers some truly unsettling jolts with a minimum of effects and what was surely a micro-fraction of the budget of much bigger, bloodier, more bloated horror flicks. Once you see it, you might not stare into your computer screen so casually—or comfortably—again.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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