Taking 'ghost in the machine' to the next level
UNFRIENDED (15, 83 mins) Horror/Thriller/Romance. Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Will Peltz, Renee Olstead, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson, Heather Sossaman. Director: Levan Gabriadze
RATING: TWO STARS
AN ONLINE prank spirals out of control in Unfriended, which takes the philosophical concept of a 'ghost in the machine' to the outlandish next level. Directed by Levan Gabriadze and written by Nelson Greaves, this sleek horror pits a group of high school students against an online predator, one year after a classmate took her own life.
In a neat twist, the film unfolds on the laptop of one of the protagonists. Browser windows, video chat links and instant messengers open and close on her cluttered desktop with a click of her trackpad button, seemingly in real time.
Occasionally, director Gabriadze exploits this stylistic conceit for maximum impact, like when the central character begins to disclose a secret about the dead girl, then deletes and repeatedly edits her response before clicking Send. From each amendment, we piece together unsettling facts that are never spoken aloud.
It is the one-year anniversary of the death of high school student Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), who killed herself after someone posted a humiliating video of her at a party. Laura's best friend Blaire (Shelley Hennig) is on her laptop, enjoying an intimate video chat with her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm), who wants to lose his virginity with her at prom.
Their flirtation is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of friends Adam (Will Peltz), Jess (Renee Olstead) and Ken (Jacob Wysocki) for a group conflab.
Blaire notices that an uninvited user with the screen name billie227 has gate-crashed the conversation. The friends assume it is a technical glitch.
Soon after, Blaire receives a cryptic message, apparently from Laura's dormant Facebook account. "You each have dirty little secrets," explains billie227 in a message. "I want to expose them."
Unfriended sustains dramatic momentum but does have a couple of unintentionally hilarious moments. Hennig and co deliver solid performances straight to camera, as if they are staring into webcams, but the intriguing set-up promises more than the film can ultimately deliver.