Unfriended ★★★★½

Knew I was hooked at the vibrating-phone gag - a sly joke of form that uses both the nature of digital video and the nature of streaming video to set up a nasty rug-pull - and the wickedly escalating cruelty (emotional-torture porn?) is smartly deployed without ever betraying the premise or the characters. (There's nothing uniquely monstrous about these kids, just everyday teenage callousness.) But what has stayed with me is not necessarily the ragged emotional edge nor the occasional quick-glimpse bursts of hypergore (though the dude with the blender is something else). I keep going back to how innate and fluid the utilization of the computer-screen gimmick is - how it allows the film to skip past clumsy around-the-campfire exposition, for instance, or how it uses the loading wheel as a builder of tension (Apple's version of the "kidding battery," maybe).

But it comes back to the phone gag. Maybe the most fascinating thing here is how it uses the limits of the technology against the selves of these hapless teenagers - not just in terms of their personalities, which given the open theme of public/private is clearly kinda the point, but in terms of their physical being. Before you die, you freeze up like a dropped connection, or you simply blink out like an unfinished torrent. Even in the quieter early moments of the Skype call, the buffering issues result in delay, cross-hatching, facial blurring; by the time of "Never Have I Ever," this information glitching feels as though the machine, in collaboration with the ghost, were erasing them even before their death. The epitaph granted at last by its vengeful spirit is "what u've done will live here forever," but is that legit or just another extension of a self-centered teenage mindset where love is forever and heartbreak is bottoming out and humiliation is an impetus to suicide? Is the true horror that nothing in the digital age is forgotten or that everything eventually is - that everyone knows what you did or that nobody knows or really cares? Is an incriminating video forever accessible an undying monument or a radar blip? Are you the signal or the noise?

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