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Film Reviews Unfriended: Paranormal tale for Web addicts connects the disconnected

Blaire (Shelley Hennig) and Mitch (Moses Storm) watch as Jess (Renee Olstead) melts down in Unfriended, where all the action unfolds over webcam.

3 out of 4 stars

Written by
Nelson Greaves
Directed by
Levan Gabriadze
Starring
Shelley Hennig, Moses Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki and Courtney Halverson
Classification
14A
Country
USA
Language
English

Death invented the phone, it looks like the altar of death.

Do not worship the telephone:

It drags its worshippers into actual graves,

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with a variety of devices, through a variety of disguised voices.

What the poet and cheery technophobe Ted Hughes knew about the blower, the horror-stricken, Skype-slashed teens of Unfriended know about computers. One era's Do Not Pick Up the Telephone is another's age cautionary tale of cyberbullying and anti-social media. YouTube is YouLose, and Facebook is no pal of yours.

Unfriended, which was titled Cybernatural when it hit the festival circuit a year ago, is a silicone-age terrorizer involving a pack of telegenic high schoolers and one very upset ghost who used to be a member of the clique. The latter is Laura Barns. She committed suicide after an unflattering video showing her passed out at a party made the interweb rounds. She's a pissed-off phantom with a mischievous (but deadly serious) manner of payback.

The director of Unfriended is Levan Gabriadze, an unknown quantity who captures his action with nothing more than a webcam. What we have is a found-footage thriller, where the actors – three girls; three guys – are shown via the home-computer screen of Blaire Lily, a popular girl played by Shelley Hennig, who does the scared-out-of-my-pretty-head thing very well.

Gabriadze creates tension with patchy Internet connections and slow downloads. The Snapchat set will understand, and the oldies might be fascinated by the communication mediums of kids today.

You will recall the scary movie When a Stranger Calls. And if you don't, you probably know the folk tale involving a person frightened by a prank phonester. The police are on the other line: "We've just traced the call … it's coming from inside the house!" Except today the menace is in the online ether – if it's not U2 terrorizing invasively via iTunes, it's a spectre typing in messages from the beyond.

One of the likeable things about Unfriended is the savvy Spotify sense at work, with playful musical choices such as vintage crooner Connie Conway's How You Lie, Lie, Lie, which is streamed when the kids are forced to play a game of chicken when it comes divulging the secret betrayals of their shared pasts.

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Watching these teens sell each other out is as chilling as any gore – give or take a bloody blender scene – we see. Best friends forever are best enemies forever, apparently.

Perhaps Gabriadze has created a new genre here, but do we want to sit all day in front of an office computer and then go out and spend dollars to watch a small screen on a bigger screen for entertainment?

In Unfriended, the not-so-friendly ghost threatens doom if any of the teens hang up. If death invented the telephone, it probably invented the Internet infernal, too. Disconnect? The scariest thing is that we can't.

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