Let me tell you a little story : a couple years back, I found myself in the midst of a back-and-forth debate on twitter about censorship in general, which quickly (somehow) narrowed down to a debate about censorship centering on cartoons and/or other depictions of the prophet Mohammed, which then (again, somehow) warped, thanks to the other party involved, into a series of xenophobic and racist rants against any and all Muslims that I parried with relative ease and calmness while said other party was shouting pleasantries like “FUCK YOU ASSHOLE!!!!!” and “ALL MUSLIMS MUST DIE BECAUSE THEY ALL WANT TO KILL US SO WE HAVE TO WIPE THEM OUT FIRST!!!!” (yes, the douchebag saying this crap typed entirely in capital letters — and he usually used a lot more exclamation points that I just did).
Okay, fair enough, mouth-foaming bigots are not, sadly, too hard to find on social media, but after about 20 minutes of me responding to this clown’s vitriol with rational counter-arguments, something funny happened : my tweets no longer were being posted. I’d type ’em up and they’d instantly disappear — while he just kept on ranting, eventually running out of breath an hour or so later after claiming that I was an accomplice to the downfall of America because I don’t hate Muslims enough, that my parents must be ashamed of me for not sharing his retrograde views, that I’m a traitor to my country who should be locked up and starved at Gitmo, you know the drill. Finally, in a truly creative if nakedly hypocritical twist, my new “friend” said he hoped that a Muslim would behead me. Even though he’d earlier claimed that all Muslims should be immediately deported because, according to him, they all want to to behead the rest of us.
Of course I had responses ready for all this nonsense (guess you’d have to leave at least one in the country to chop my head off after all, huh, asshole?), but I couldn’t post them. I was “frozen out” of the conversation. And out of twitter in general, as it turns out, for a good few hours. At first I thought that maybe some overly-zealous twitter employee decided to lock my account but let the other party keep going because he or she was sympathetic to their view and not mine, but when I signed into facebook later, I found that my standard profile image had been replaced with a fairly gross-looking “dick pic,” and later still I discovered that I was unable to access my Yahoo! email because apparently my password was no longer valid.
Don’t get me wrong — I know coincidences like all that shit going wrong at once can happen, but let’s be honest : odds are that our not-so-friendly racist was a guy who had some computer-hacking skills and he decided to fuck with me for “daring” to oppose his bigoted little worldview. And ya know what? I was pretty freaked that it’s that fucking easy for somebody with “mad cyber-skills” to gain access to my personal shit.
Fear not, my little story has a happy ending (unless whoever that other dude was — I can’t remember his twitter “handle” for the life of me and I learned a bit later, when I tried to look them up, that he had deleted all of his tweets and mine — by some chance reads this and decides to mess with me again) : I changed all my passwords for every single site in the world (not so easy to do with Yahoo! when it looked to them like I had changed my email password myself — I was literally on the phone with a company representative for over two hours getting the whole thing straightened out), and have never been bothered again.But I admit, I was really pretty spooked there for a minute — would this character empty my bank account? Charge up a house-full of furniture on my credit cards? Cancel my automatic monthly mortgage payments?
Then I got to thinking — what if I wasn’t nearly as dull a person as I admittedly am? What if I was one of those guys who had six different fake facebook profiles and was using them to conduct various online “dalliances” with a number of women all over the place, unbeknownst to my wife? Chances are, I would nave been seriously fucked then. Let me tell you, I’ve never been so glad to lead a fairly boring life in my life as I was then.
All of which brings us to first-time director Leo Gabriadze’s Unfriended (a title that was wisely changed at the last minute from its original, Cybernatural). This flick’s been playing for a good few weeks now, but, despite considerable positive “buzz” around it, I just hadn’t gotten around to seeing it until today. It’s not that I was leery about shelling out for another “found footage” horror flick — regular readers here will know that, unlike a number of other internet critics, I actually don’t consider that particular subgenre to be completely past its prime in the least — it’s more a case that the last much-hyped horror I’d gone to see in the theater, It Follows, was one that I found to be completely underwhelming. Also, contrary to popular belief, this is hardly the first flick of its kind — a little number called The Den that I reviewed a few months back employs more or less the exact same conceit of telling its story completely from a character’s computer screen. Still, though, what the hell — I got my Saturday errands done early and it was playing reasonably close by, so I figured I’d at least go and see what all the fuss was about.
To make a long story short (since we’ve had one of those already), I’m actually really glad that I did, because even though Unfriended is hardly the breathtakingly original movie many of its fervent partisans claim , it’s still a supremely well-executed slice of contemporary horror that, I’m guessing, probably has even more immediacy to its more youthful “target audience” than it does to a 40-something (just barely, I swear!) like me.
In other words, in spite of the fact that I might be a little “too old” for this flick, I could still pretty well relate to these six kids (played by Shelly Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, and Courtney Halverson) because, even though when I was a kid we actually went to parties and socialized with each other face-to-face on a Friday or Saturday night rather than doing so via skype, most of these characters are archetypal representations of people we all knew (or know, if you happen to be high-schooler yourself) at that ago : the stoner, the jock, the bitchy popular girl, the “stand-up” guy, etc.
Unlike boring old me, though, these kids do all have secrets they don’t want getting out, and when a person or entity claiming to be a classmate of theirs who committed suicide after an embarrassing video of her was leaked onto YouTube shows up and initiates a “live chat” with all of them, she/it begins a deliciously sadistic game of forcing them to reveal those secrets if they want to stay alive.
Admittedly, the idea of a spirit haunting a computer (or something like that) being able to kill people in the real world might be a bridge too far for many to cross, but a quick Google search will reveal that the internet is chock-full of “electronic urban legends” of just this sort — stories about tragedy befalling someone who answered a message from a dead person are all over the place on various forums, and it’s quite obvious that the old “ghost in the machine” horror staple is not only alive and well, but bigger than ever, here in what some of us still quaintly refer to as the “internet age.” By ingeniously melding tales such as this with the still-“hot” topic of “cyber-bullying,” Garbriadze and screenwriter Nelson Greaves have concocted a genuinely memorable and gripping yarn that definitely feels a whole hell of a lot more real than it probably, by all rights, should.
Which isn’t to say that Unfriended is perfect, by any means — some of the actors quite obviously struggle during their more anxious character moments, and by the time all is said and done and their dirty laundry is completely aired out no one proves to be especially likable, but what the heck? It goes without saying that most of these kids (I won’t say how many) aren’t gonna survive anyway, so why not reveal them to be a bunch of self-centered, spoiled, entitled little pricks? Anyway, in the final analysis, those are pretty small gripes — Gabriadze has crafted an extremely tense, expertly-paced, highly involving little chiller/thriller here that will leave you glued to your seat and even threatens to be somewhat relevant at times. My pick for 2015’s best horror flick so far.