Hit horror Unfriended takes place entirely on social media and computer screens. So if the genre really is a barometer for the anxieties of an age, what does that say about the world we now live in?
‘Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep,” cautioned the tagline for A Nightmare on Elm Street back in 1984. Thirty years on, having your dreams interrupted by some old codger with a pair of scissors is the least of your worries. These days, you can’t even open your laptop.
More than any other genre, horror acts as a barometer on exterior fears. The bogeymen of our times are stumbling ciphers for outside concerns. In the 50s,Invasion of the Body Snatchers fretted about McCarthyism. In the 80s, The Thingriffed horrifically on the emerging Aids epidemic (watch that blood-test scene again). And post-9/11, the torture-porn subgenre, spearheaded by Saw andHostel, placed viewers in the position of prisoners, held below ground, off-radar, subjected to dreadful indignities.
Last weekend saw the emergence of a new cycle of horror into the mainstream.Unfriended opened in the US with $16m at the box office (making it the third-biggest film in the charts). On the surface, its plot seems hopelessly generic. A girl is driven to suicide and her vengeful ghost haunts the teens responsible. So far, so similar to every other sleepover shocker. But the twist here is that the entire film unfolds on the main character’s computer screen. Conversations happen on webcam, exposition via Facebook messenger and plot points are revealed on YouTube. It’s “I know who you Skyped last summer”, made to make you go omg wtaf.