I watched Cybernatural on my laptop, alone in Fantasia Fest's screening library yesterday, and found myself instantly gripped, dragged into the world on my monitor. I'm confident the film, from director Levan Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves, would still work on the big screen or a television, because it's a tightly written narrative with great performances and a terrific sense of urgency, outside of the really clever execution. But man, on the tiny confines of my laptop screen, alone in an unfamiliar room with earphones drowning out all other noise - damned if that execution wasn't effective.
Blaire (Shelley Hennig) and her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm) are having a flirty Skype session when Blaire gets a Facebook message from a friend. The trouble? That friend, Laura Barnes, killed herself a year ago after someone in their friend group posted an embarrassing video of her. Soon Blaire and Mitch have invited their friends Ken (Jacob Wysocki), Adam (William Peltz), Val (Courtney Halverson) and Jess (Renee Olstead) to join the chat so they can all figure out what's going on. But there's a seventh, anonymous person hovering in their chat, someone who knows things he or she couldn't possibly know, and who's doing things he or she should never be able to do.
The entirety of the film takes place on Blaire's computer monitor, mainly in the borders of her Skype session with quick detours to her desktop, Facebook, Spotify and Google. I know. That sounds annoying, right? But, somehow, miraculously, it isn't. This is partly because it's all so authentic: Blaire does precisely what you or I would do on our laptops as these sinister events unfold. She tries the same things we would try - blocking Laura's Facebook page, for instance - and she does them the same way we would, with the quick surety born of habit. Her browser history (Forever 21, Free People, MTV's Teen Wolf, Jezebel, Instagram) is just right for a teenage girl in 2014. This is a movie for savvy Internet kids, and it feels savvy itself. Unlike so many other movies that make this attempt and feel ancient, Cybernatural feels current.
But outside of that, and far more importantly, Cybernatural works because of these characters. The actors, every one of them - and especially Hennig, our lead - are fantastic. They're so natural and convincing as teenagers and friends. And when the scares start to ramp up - and they really, really do - they're convincing as terrified, guilty kids, as well. The film is a drum-tight 82 minutes, and the stakes go out of control pretty quickly as their unknown adversary forces them to reveal their darkest secrets.
There's a message here about cyberbullying, one that I hope makes a difference to the kids who will watch this movie and recognize themselves in it. Once we see the video that caused Laura to kill herself, it's bleak and mortifying. But of course we learn that Laura was her own sort of bully when she was alive. As Cybernatural unravels, we discover that these kids, who seem like such good, easy friends when the film begins, have done truly awful things to one another. They're not bad people; they're just teenagers. And teenagers are terrifying.