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Ghost in the Machine

'Unfriended' gets extra credit for sweet revenge on cyber-bullies

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DIGITAL DEATH What's the emoticon for fear-for-your-life terror?
  • DIGITAL DEATH What's the emoticon for fear-for-your-life terror?

There's nothing like a genre approach to a serious social problem to restore your faith in B-movies.

Whatever its structural limitations, Unfriended, by the ingenious scriptwriter Nelson Greaves and director Levan Gabriadze, brings fantasy to people thirsting for justice. It's fair to want to see cyber-bullies get it, and in Unfriended, they get it good.

The film takes place a year after a high schooler Laura Barns kills herself when a video of her drunk at a party goes viral. Now a mysterious figure is having a forced Skype conference with her friends—who may have been her persecutors. Laura's best friend and our apparent Surviving Virgin is Blaire (the very good Shelley Hennig), who's been having a private video conversation with her boyfriend, Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm), when their friends message her, bringing with them a lurker calling herself "billie227."

The friends are a standard bunch of archetypes seen in chat windows: a hefty vulgarian called Kennington (Jacob Wysocki), a pair of mean girls and a backward-baseball-capped jock. Each is slowly and psychologically tortured then bumped off in some horrible way after a lethal game of Never Have I Ever. Unfriended turns up a little skinny in the red-meat department due to the low-resolution webcam format, artistically treated so faces melt into smears of mosaics. Teasing us is the civilized way, but it may be a disappointment to gorehounds.

Civilized is the operative word here. The humiliation video is nasty, but it's shot in a way that keeps the actress from being exploited. And there's even a tender moment, when Blaire, typing away, hesitates over the right way to tell why Laura was acting out, and then decides to keep the truth to herself.

The licensing from Google, Chatroulette, YouTube and other sites gives this tale necessary verisimilitude. Also believable is the way a chorus of online commentators will turn like a pack of hounds on whoever seems the weakest or the guiltiest.

'Unfriended' is playing in wide release in the North Bay.

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