Our second day of the Halloween movie special week proves that the internet can be a very scary place.
(USA/Russia 2014, director: Levan Gabriadze)
A group of friends find themselves confronted by an unknown person who uses the account of their dead friend during an online chat, resulting in psychological terror and death.
Anyone who thinks that The Blair Witch Project was inventive and scary should be prepared for something much more original and more relevant to today’s social media society. While there have been other attempts of using real-time storytelling, none has made more sense than an online chatroom. Using all sorts of everyday applications people have at their disposal, e.g. search engines, video calls, and messaging, the movie creates suspense without any musical cues and almost no scary sound effects. Taking into account that the most intense scenes don’t even take place in the dark and usually work with people texting, browsing through pictures and videos, it’s a revolutionary step forward for the horror genre.
Maybe calling it horror would do the movie a disservice, as it’s more like a thriller and a drama about cybermobbing, something that couldn’t be done any better. Sure, other movies have thematized social media as the big bad wolf, but it’s much more effective here. What starts out to be friendly chats and superficial blabbering soon becomes something much more sinister, as the unknown user or entity starts to play with each character’s feelings and reveals secrets that turn them against each other. It’s telling that the few jumpscares and gory sequences feel superfluous, as if they were solely used to sell it as a mainstream horror movie. At its heart, this is the best commentary on social media abuse that has come out of modern cinema yet.
Unfriended: Dark Web
(USA/Russia 2018, director: Stephen Susco)
After acquiring a new laptop, a young man and soon his friends become threatened in a dangerous game that takes over control of their lives in and outside the internet.
Unfriended already played with all sorts of applications one could see on the screen and successfully used real-time storytelling to create a creepy everyone-is-watching-you atmosphere. But this standalone sequel cranks up the paranoia level even further and fortunately doesn’t rely on the same twists and turns. It doesn’t start out very interesting, though, as the first 20 minutes force the audience to listen to a lot of babbling between friends and a love story between the main protagonist and a deaf girl that doesn’t quite work. But if one perseveres, one will be rewarded with a more realistic thriller that makes many other conspiracy flicks look tame in comparison.
While it can be rather difficult to keep track of all the various chat windows and simultaneous messages (especially if you own the German version which despite using an English track has all the text translated), one is soon drawn into a rather sick game which can seem a bit exploitative at times, but as it’s about the Dark Web, it makes sense. This time there might be no social media critique, but the overall message is clear: Beware of your privacy which is just an illusion. Taking into account that this movie could just have followed the same template like Paranormal Activity 1-7, it’s refreshing to see that it didn’t and instead uses an effective mix of suspense, even touching dramatic sequences, and all the communication tools the new media offers.
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