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Unfriended

Who knew ghosts could get WiFi?

After an unknown computer presence crashes a group of teens’ online chat, they die one by one in Unfriended. <<© Universal Pictures >>

On the anniversary of a friend’s suicide, Blaire (Shelley Hennig: Teen Wolf) and Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm: About a Boy) are too busy sexting to mourn. When their steamy Skype session is interrupted by friends, the teens are annoyed. When a stranger joins the group video chat, they are disturbed.
    Assuming the faceless presence is a glitch, they try rebooting, then force-quitting, but the intruder remains. Most reasonable people would now close their laptops for the night, but these are not reasonable people; they are teens. So they continue the chat.
    Next, the presence types.
    The intruder claims to be Laura Barns, the friend who killed herself after an embarrassing video appeared on the Internet. Laura doesn’t want to fondly reminisce; she wants to know who in her inner circle did the upload.
    The teens aren’t convinced until Laura spills secrets. First comes humiliation of the friends one by one. Then it wants blood. As the teens drop, Blaire and Mitch try to figure out who is holding them hostage on Skype and how they can get out with their lives.
    The scariest element of Unfriended might be how well this cyber horror movie is executed. The entire film takes place on Blaire’s desktop as she toggles between chat windows, Facebook, the Internet, iTunes and Skype. The camera never moves; we never change locations. Yet director Leo Gabriadze keeps the plot of his feature film debut moving and the tension high.
    All physical action is restricted to the Skype windows, so we can select which character to watch.
    For a movie about the Internet generation, Unfriended has a lot of reading. Key plot points are cleverly uncovered as Blaire responds to messages, before deleting the revealing information she typed and changing her text to words more vague. If you can decipher her hieroglyphic-like text speak, you’ll find interesting character notes in her writing. If you’re over the age of 30, you may want to bring a teen along to translate, as no subtitles are offered.
    The film makes only one major misstep: The teens are such vapid, annoying little twits that when the blood splats across webcams, it’s hard not to root for the vengeful party. The teens have two basic emotions: nasty narcissism and voice-cracking hysterics.
    When everyone is screaming it can be a little overwhelming, and none of the characters generates anything close to sympathy. Still, there is a reason slasher films kill off sinners, jerks and fools: the audience enjoys gore without guilt.
    Unfriended is a surprisingly successful twist on the slasher genre that will speak to teens and entertain their parents. It might even convince teens to put their mobiles down, lest they too find the ghost in the machine.

Good Horror • R • 83 mins.