PLOT: A gang of skyping teenagers are terrorized by an anonymous user that’s somehow connected to a former classmate who committed suicide after one of them posted an embarrassing video of her online.
REVIEW: CYBERNATURAL is nothing if not timely. One of the problems with social media is that, while bullying used to end at school, with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and more, It can continue online. It seems like every other week that we read about a teen who committed suicide after a vicious video was posted leaked to the web, with those responsible often getting off with a slap on the wrist as no one seems to know exactly how to punish cyber-bullying.
So along comes CYBERNATURAL, a film that boldly, takes place completely on a computer screen through Skype windows, Facebook chat, and cameos by Spotify, LiveLeak, Google Chrome and more. Having a horror story unfold completely through the use of social media is a novel approach, and less contrived than you might think. The fact is, many of us are glued to our computers every night, and the Skype Video chat is the defacto way for teens to call each other, so it figures something about this phenomenon would finally be made.
While a straight-up horror flick, CYBERNATURAL makes a good point, in that once something goes viral it’s more-or-less out there permanently, and next to impossible to take back. A careless, spur-of-the-moment decision by a bully has the potential to destroy lives now, and CYBERNATURAL can’t help but feel like a little big-screen payback for cyber-bullies everywhere. The only downside to this is that the teens involved come off as absolutely despicable, so rather than invest in any of them emotionally; you’ll be actively rooting against them.
Then again, that very thing makes CYBERNATURAL a lot og fun, and director Levan Gabriadze does a good job ratcheting up the tension, making this an effective slow burn. While presumably done on a small budget, the small-scale makes it seem all the more real, with Skype pixilation, choppy connections and more all playing a part. While it’s probably a little light on the gore, this will still probably scare the hell out of teens everywhere.
Fitting the technique, the performances all feel pretty natural – for better or worse – with the “teenspeak” feeling authentic, meaning lots of “likes” and tantrums, even before people start dying. The issue of “why don’t they just turn off their computers” is addressed early on, with the script by Nelson Greaves (a protégé of Timur Bekmambetov – who produced) making you understand why the teens who go along with the user’s threats beyond morbid curiosity.
One thing that will be interesting is to see how CYBERNATURAL plays with a crowd. For the purposes of this review, the studio sent a Vimeo link which – for me anyways – made this all the more effective as I was actually watching it on my laptop, which just might be the ideal way to see it. That said, apparently the sold-out screening at the Fantasia Film Festival went so well that additional screenings are being added, making one think that this has the potential to be something of a sleeper hit. While not perfect, CYBERNATURAL is nonetheless a clever spin on the found footage genre, and a tight little horror flick that’s good for a solid scare or two.