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Movie review: ‘Unfriended’ exposes potential for horror in online lives

Shelley Henning, left, and Moses Storm appear in a scene from “Unfriended,” which is viewed entirely through computer screens.
Shelley Henning, left, and Moses Storm appear in a scene from “Unfriended,” which is viewed entirely through computer screens.
Rick Bentley Tribune News Service

Not since 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project” has a horror film taken such a creative approach to conjure scares as “Unfriended.” It’s a cautionary tale of a group of friends who become the target of an unseen cyberentity starving for revenge.

What makes this film so different is that it’s shot looking at a computer screen. The actors interact through Skype, with back-story elements handled through online searches. Even the soundtrack is created using the tunes stored on one of the computers.

The approach – much as the “found footage” construction of “Blair Witch” – is jarring at the start. The main image of the computer screen remains static while a flurry of action takes place in all the video screens. There are also text messages popping up, along with videos, which pull focus at first. Eventually the approach becomes familiar enough that it’s easier to concentrate on the story.

Taking a different tactic with the presentation is necessary because writer/producer Nelson Greaves has turned to a familiar horror movie theme. Whoever – or whatever – is stalking the teens is looking to avenge the death of a young woman so embarrassed by a video placed on YouTube that she committed suicide.

It’s a familiar story that comes across as fresh because of the fascinating way the movie was shot. Layers of information – which would normally slow the scare-factor pacing – can be added through the onscreen images. The viewer can either concentrate on the actors or try to take in the whirl of action taking place in every corner of the screen.

Because the cameras are always pointed at all of the actors, director Levan Gabriadze had to make sure that he was getting seamless performances from the cast. This unknown group of players managed to turn in solid performances.

A traditional film has actors interacting or reacting to something in the scene. All of these performances are done directly into the camera, and each player manages to convey the fear their characters are experiencing.

“Unfriended” is the first horror film for the electronic-device generation. The entity element drives this story. But behind the horror, the movie strongly suggests that our lives have become open e-books because of the Internet. Secrets can’t be fully protected, and the potential of this kind of exposure is enough to send a chill up the spine.

There’s a scary world only a couple of text messages away.

It will be interesting after “Unfriended” ends its theatrical run and can be viewed on a home computer. That will create the unsettling situation where the viewer is almost a new participant in this online game of supernatural cyberstalking.

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