Step 1: Listen to the film’s message. Don’t cyberbully or you could unleash the ghost in the machine.
Step 2: Or, if you’re Unfriended’s six dumb teenagers, learn the hard way. With the film’s POV coming entirely from high schooler Blaire’s laptop (Shelley Hennig), it starts by revealing that it’s the one-year death anniversary of Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), Blaire’s classmate who shot herself on school grounds (caught on video, of course). You then discover that Laura offed herself after someone posted a humiliating drunken video of her on YouTube, which prompted a flurry of nasty and degrading comments. Now, while Blaire is searching around online about Laura, she is interrupted by a Skype call from her boyfriend, Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm). Soon, Blaire and Mitch are joined by four other friends… and one unidentified person. Who is it? Why is Blaire suddenly getting messages from the clearly dead Laura on her Facebook page? Who is playing this mean-spirited game and freaking them out? Try as they might, they can’t get rid of this anonymous person who is remaining chillingly quiet. Then they get this message…
Step 3: Don’t hang up or you’re all going to die. Okay, well, that sums it up. This group of relatively unknown actors then spend the next 90 minutes convincingly portraying cyber hell, stalked by a malevolent spirit, and I must say, they do a damn fine job playing terrified through their small-screen laptops. Unfriended doesn’t rely on too many typical found-footage horror gimmicks but rather pits the characters against one another, exposing lies, betrayal and morally questionable behavior.
Step 4: Keep things bone-simple. At a budget of about $1 million, all the filmmakers literally had to do is find six non-distinct rooms for the actors to sit in and just turn on the computers. Smart. There are also only brief glimpses of the gore that befalls these hapless teens, which is actually very effective in this scenario. And for all the buzz the film is getting, expect at least one sequel. Let’s just hope they keep originality in mind and not fall into the same pattern.
Step 5: Wince at the technology. To be honest, what unnerved me the most is how this creepy ghost story uses all the machinations of social media and web play with such ease. Blaire bounces around so fast on her computer it’s a little mind boggling… and she’s not even the tech head of the group. That’s some other guy, Ken, who, at one point, is able to send them all a swipe program within nano seconds to try and get rid of “Laura.” The most frightening is the way Unfriended highlights just how dangerous and pervasive it all can be and how this technological age makes bullying practices so scary and damaging.