The Unsolicited Endorsement: Cyber horror

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by Sayaka Matsuoka

We’ve seen it all before.

Slasher films with a masked maniac, possession movies that always target “vulnerable” women, found-footage flicks, cabin films with the token group of college kids…and let’s not forget the myriad zombie flicks that have spawned from the popularity of gems like 28 Days Later and the more recent television series “The Walking Dead.”

While all of these subgenres boast jewels like the first REC and Cabin in the Woods, there’s a new player on the market and so far, it does not disappoint: cyber horror.

Our lives revolve around technology. Virtual communication dominates through quick snaps, messages or emoticons. With every intimate and minuscule detail of our lives is plastered on social media, it’s unsurprising that technology would be the next step in the horror genre. And there are already a few notable ones.

Unfriended premiered in theaters a couple of weeks ago, and while it may have been overshadowed by instant hits like The Babadook or It Follows, it has proven that it isn’t to be missed. It boasts a 6 out of 10 on IMDB and an 80 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is generally unheard of for a horror movie. While it may seem corny early on, as it follows a group of cliquish teenagers through their video chat sessions, the film’s fresh take on horror keeps viewers engaged.

The unfamiliar format of keeping scenes confined to the quick switches between tabs and windows on a computer screen feels claustrophobic at first but ultimately serves as a social commentary on this generation’s everyday life. Rather than being confronted face to face with a physical monster, the battle of wits stays confined within each character’s virtual world. This unseen, untouchable enemy creates an innovative sense of dread that hasn’t been tackled since the first Paranormal Activity. Smart, well acted, and unpredictable, Unfriended offers a good scare as well as a glance into the bizarre social interactions of this generation’s teenagers, which adds to the unease of the film.

The Den, which can be streamed on Netflix, scored even better ratings than Unfriended with a 6.1 out of 10 and another 80 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating.

This film also uses a laptop as a platform through which viewers watch the main protagonist as she engages with random users around the world through a videochatting website similar to Chatroulette. The movie has a voyeuristic quality, with viewers seeing the woman go through her daily life from the viewpoint of her laptop webcam. If you can make it through the first half-hour, the twist at the end is worth the wait.

Technology permeates everything and this new genre takes that vulnerability and turns it on the viewer, creating an authentically terrifying experience that will continue to develop as long as we continue to rely on the virtual world.