'Unfriended' is a smart, tech-savvy horror film

unfriended movie
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'Unfriended' is a smart and fun take on the teen horror film genre, using tech as its main setting and source for action and drama.

The entire 82-minute movie is made to look like we're watching the MacBook screen of a high school student named Blaire. The only audio we hear is what she hears through her headphones -- notification sounds, fan whirring and all -- or what gets picked up by her laptop's microphone.

The Fresno, California, girl is home on a school night, listening to Spotify, and Skyping with her boyfriend. The two young lovebirds start doing what you expect them to be doing until four friends mysteriously join their private chat.

A seventh Skype character is there too, billie227, the username of Blaire's dead friend Laura.

One year ago, Laura killed herself after being cyberbullied online over a video taken of her at a party. Throughout the film, Laura communicates with the living through Skype and Facebook (FB), harassing, threatening and killing members of the clique.

At first, watching the movie unfold through multiple video chat windows, Chrome browsers, and iMessage screens is disorienting and claustrophobic. You're essentially paying 14 bucks to watch a WebEx presentation of someone multitasking on her computer.

But once you realize you're stuck with this screen-share perspective, you begin to appreciate all of the details which make this kind of film realistic. You also realize how much personality and feeling can be conveyed digitally, understood instantaneously.

In a glance, we know Blaire is a "typical" teen. Even though we only see her through her front-facing camera, the tabs open on her computer tell us what she likes: Forever 21, Tumblr, Free People, and MTV.

Facebook and YouTube are always open too. The two sites give us context and history about Blaire's relationship with Laura, and why the dead girl is seeking revenge.

When Blaire browses Facebook photos and profiles, we learn that Laura and Blaire's relationship date back to childhood, helping us understand the depth of Blaire's betrayal.

When Blaire confronts the ghost, her cursor is a constant representation of her state of mind. If she's hesitating, the mouse doesn't move. It remains blinking. When she's frantic, the cursor moves all over the place as she shuffles through open windows trying to rid herself of the phantom hacker.

The Web also serves as its own character, mainly as a narrator and source for assistance. In multiple scenes, Blaire consults a supernatural website forum to explain to her (and the audience) how to appease dead spirits. There's also a scene where Blaire signs on to Chatroulette to get someone else to call for help because Laura threatens to kill anyone who uses a phone.

Should you see the film? Yes, if you're interested in the way technology can be used to create long-form stories. If you wait to watch it online or on TV, you might find some of the action hard to see since the actors perform within small windows. A lot of the text, including chat windows, notifications, and websites, may also be harder to read on smaller screens.

Like the 'Paranormal Activity' franchise, 'Unfriended' uses recognizable technology to tell a supernatural story. The effect is realistic and unique, and given the ubiquitous nature of our digital activities, we should expect to see more films based on this concept in the future.

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