April 17, 2015 / 4:48 PM / 2 years ago

Cyberbullying is avenged by a digital ghost in horror 'Unfriended'

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A group of seemingly innocent teenagers gather online for an evening chat session, not once suspecting that it could be their last night alive, as the film “Unfriended” spins a digital twist in the horror genre.

“Unfriended,” out in U.S. theaters on Friday, follows six high school students gathering on the video conferencing platform Skype on the anniversary of the suicide of a fellow student, who killed herself after an embarrassing video of her was posted online.

Filmed entirely as if the events are unfolding on a computer screen, a mysterious entity joins the group’s Skype conversation and begins to coerce secrets out of each friend, before exacting gory revenge one by one, as the others watch in horror.

The film can feel close to home for real-life cyberbullying stories that have led to serious consequences, especially within a close-knit community of high school. It also highlights online trolls, carelessly posting insults from the safety net of being anonymous and behind a computer screen.

“It’s a very serious topic, a relatable drama dressed as a horror movie,” said producer Timur Bekmambetov. “We’re using horror movie language, but the story is about one of the biggest problems on the Internet.”

“Unfriended,” released by Comcast Corp’s Universal Pictures, was an experimental project, made for less than $1 million. It was filmed in a six-bedroom house in Los Angeles, where each room housed one of the main actors, all connected through the Internet as they were filmed.

“It’s really effective to serving how authentic this is,” said executive producer Jason Blum, whose Blumhouse Productions, known for horror movies such as “Paranormal Activity” and “The Purge,” joined ‘Unfriended’ last August.

“People don’t go to movies for political messages, they go to rallies. But if there’s a social message tucked into them, all the better,” he added.

Bekmambetov believes the way in which ‘Unfriended’ is filmed, a method he calls ‘screenshot movie,’ will become more prevalent in filmmaking as the world becomes more digital.

“It was very important for me to make this movie for theatrical release, because it’s a statement that this type of filmmaking is the future,” Bekmambetov said.

“We’re spending more and more time living in the virtual world, and it means we should tell stories about our behavior and how we communicate. We talk differently in real life when we’re chatting, we’re not reacting the same way - we are different.”

Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; editing by Patricia Reaney

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