U: Unfriended (2015)

Well, it looks like this is also my season for Internet horror movies.

A group of high school friends get together for their regular Skype party (is this a thing? Or was? Haha, I’m old) and someone using the default avatar is along for the ride. Unable to hang up or otherwise get rid of the interloper, a little research reveals it is using the account of one of the group who had committed suicide a year before, on that very night – Laura Banks (Heather Sossaman).

Laura shot herself after a particularly humiliating video was posted, followed by a torrent of cyberbullying. Our main Skyper, Blaire (Shelley Hennig) is starting to receive text messages from Laura. And as the evening progresses, our participants find that not only can they not get rid of her, but she can post equally humiliating stuff to their Facebook accounts and Instagrams, even control their peripherals and their lights. Laura is seeking blame for her suicide, and moreover retribution. And she seems to know a lot about our doomed band of Skypers.

“A vengeful ghost story played out in real time, and only on a computer screen” seems like a thought exercise or a dare between filmmakers, but it has to be confessed that Unfriended manages it beautifully. This the sort of movie I would have expected to get made during the Pandemic (and probably would have done pretty well if released during the first lockdown), and I was surprised to find the date was 2015. Honestly, the fact that Chatroulette shows up as a plot device would have tipped me off eventually, but the movie is so full of familiar icons, bloops and beeps that it mostly assumes a timeless quality – at least until there’s some sort of major UI overhaul or other technical revolution.

Maybe it’s best if you watch it as I did, on a computer screen. I was occasionally disoriented, wondering why my mouse cursor was going nuts, but it wasn’t mine, it was Blaire’s. And I have to give props to anybody who can demonstrate thought processes by using mouse movements. The steps she takes and the tabbing back and forth between windows proceeds logically, and I think anyone could follow this with only rudimentary knowledge of the Web and social media. I think that is another plus to assign to director Levan Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves – widening the appeal of a concept that screams niche into something that non-Webheads could appreciate.

Also, I had never even thought about suicide by blender, so thanks for putting that in my head, movie.

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