One Of The Most Terrifying Scenes In Unfriended Truly Cuts To The Quick

(Welcome to Scariest Scene Ever, a column dedicated to the most pulse-pounding moments in horror with your tour guides, horror experts Matt Donato and Ariel Fisher. In this edition: Matt champions "Unfriended" as the real, and Ariel grows resentful of Matt for his shenanigans.)

At the dawn of Screenlife horror — a filmmaking movement coined by producer, writer, and director Timur Bekmambetov — where computer screens became a new terrifying frontier, "Unfriended" represented a cinematic refresh. Under Bekmambetov's Bazelevs Productions, Levan Gabriadze tells a story of digital possession brought on by cyberbullying that takes place exclusively on a MacBook screencast. Teenagers accuse each other of heinous betrayals over Skype while an anonymous avatar types freely in their chat windows. It's glitchy, inherently personal, and — in my opinion — still stands as one of the better Screenlife offerings since its 2014 Fantasia Festival premiere.

There's nothing scarier than being glued to your computer screen with headphones blocking out any environmental sounds. So easily we're transfixed by YouTube content or Instagram clips — would we sense an intruder should they invade while watching another viral video? "Unfriended" combines those fears with hidden sins and anonymous internet hackers like a virus the Vatican can't contain. Understandably, some viewers might be averse to watching someone's internet hangouts, but desktop recreation and online authenticity are an art form to others. The next evolution of horror, alongside titles like "The Den," "Open Windows," and more tales of terror from the Chatroulette generation.

The Setup

"Unfriended" opens on an uncensored recount of high school student Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman) killing herself as onlookers plead for her to stop. We're watching Blaire Lily's (Shelley Hennig) MacBook activity as she accesses Spotify playlists and surfs Google. Blaire messages her boyfriend Mitch Roussel (Moses Storm) and eventually hops onto a Skype call with other friends as they dish out hot gossip like most high schoolers with too much time on their hands. The camera only acknowledges Blaire's screen and those she chooses to interact with privately.

It's not long before the wasted youths notice an unknown user in the room: "billie227." The assumption is a jokester tries to crash their convo, or someone present is behind the ghost account. Blaire tries to boot the profile, so does computer wiz Ken Smith (Jacob Wysocki), but billie227 remains. There's an idea to leave the chat and rejoin anew, outsing the uninvited guest, until billie227 reveals their true identity — Laura Barns.

The Story So Far

At first, Blaire and the others presume the hacker is a troll getting a rise from the tasteless imitation. Latecomer Val Rommel (Courtney Halverson) is the first suspect, but she's proven innocent. Tensions rise as trashy drunk party pictures appear on Facebook walls at random, such as Val's wasted bong evidence on Jess Felton's (Renee Olstead) page. Bickering ensues, insults fly, but it becomes apparent that none of the room's participants are in control of their social media accounts. That's when billie227's threats intensify, informing them all that they'll be killed should anyone dare drop the call. Val dials the police after billie227 sends a blackmail image and dies an untimely death supposedly at the command of Laura Barns.

The stakes have presented themselves.

Mitch sends Blaire an ominous forum chain about possessions through digital realms. An intoxicated Adam Sewell (Will Peltz) threatens whoever — whatever — is behind billie227. Ken forwards a program that detects Trojan Horses for deletion in an attempt to clean everyone's hard drives and then tries to leave after the futile scrub. That's when billie227's video activates, looking through a ventilation grate pointed towards a mountain of storage junk in Ken's computer area.

The Scene

Ken rises from his rolling throne and passes the camera, alerting Jess and the rest to its location. Confusion and panic ping-pong between Ken's friends as he wanders to the small opening. Ken removes the lattice covering and stares into billie227's lens in a squat position, frozen or paralyzed (like Val before death). After a lengthy beat as Ken's friends press their faces against built-in cameras, the internet glitches, and everyone loses connection.

Even without bars, billie227 can send Blaire a message: "I told Ken don't hang up."

Blaire is the first back onto Skype and sees Ken standing from stomach to chest in the frame. His circular wheel keeps spinning to suggest buffering lag. Once Mitch and the rest regain connection, Ken's window rises to the speaker position as he slams onto his desktop table with a scream — his headset flies off as if an unseeable force is thrusting him down.

Ken's video buffers in and out of view, blacking out every few seconds, but it's clear he's in danger. A cut back brings more cries for help as his head hits the table ("Host" learned a thing or two).

Another blackout occurs, and then we hear the sounds of an appliance whirring before the video shows Ken shoving his hand into a spinning blender blade. Crimson slurry spurts upward like a backyard mixologist forgot to cover their bloody mary mixture as Ken howls in agony.

Another cut to black.

There's no helping Ken. Blaire and her crew can only watch from across laptop portals. The screen shows Ken removing the blender's jar and any safety measures. Ken slams his throat onto the cyclone blades as they tear away at the flesh under his chin, finishing a gruesome execution. Ken's video stops, showing his avatar of an air hockey match, and then he's gone.

Tears, disgust, and shock are plastered on the faces of his friends who dread what comes next.

The Impact (Ariel's Take)

This movie is scary enough on its own without Matt's help. "There's nothing scarier than being glued to your computer screen with headphones blocking out any environmental sounds"? How very dare you, sir. This is how I both write and edit: with noise-canceling headphones on to help me focus!

Naturally, this was not a chill process. But this movie seldom is. It's creepy as all hell.

There's a lot of debate around which is the better "Unfriended" movie — the first one, or "Dark Web." Now, that's a debate we can get into at a later date. I always preferred the first one. Maybe it's because of the fact that I watched them in order of release, who knows. Nevertheless, this simple concept was expertly executed and gave us a new offshoot of found-footage horror to obsess over.

"Unfriended" took the notion of isolation as a teenager, riddled with its insecurities and social morays, and weaponized it to great effect. When Val collapses, the group is apprehensive but can't quite contextualize what's happened to her. It's all so unclear. Ken's death leaves little room for ambiguity. Suddenly, the stakes are not only raised but they're crystal clear: he's dead, and there's nothing any of them can do about it. Any doubt that this was real just flew out the window and it flipped them all the bird on its way out.

I'm not sure if this is the scariest scene in the movie for me, but it's the one that unquestionably sets the tone. It's the Casey Becker moment. The one that lets you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they're not f***ing around, and all bets are off. No one is safe, anything can happen, and they're probably all going to die. And while that level of certainty should eliminate any potential tension, it's instead amplified ten-fold because of the nature of this style of filmmaking.

You can't hide, and you can't log off.