Imagine your average weeknight – browsing the computer, checking your Facebook page, doing some random (possibly shameful) Google search, and then having a Skype chat with your best buds. Now imagine someone turning that into a movie. Sounds boring right? I’m not sure that anyone would find me Googling “Best way to treat hemorrhoids” to be compelling cinema.
Then again, neither is watching a girl and her boyfriend in the early stages of cybersex, unless of course you’re on a completely different site with entirely different intentions. Anyway, what if you take the seemingly mundane Skype chat and throw in a mysterious hacker that may or may not be a ghost/demon/vengeful spirit? Now we’re talkin’.
Such is the case for Cybernatural, the English language debut for director Levan Gabriadze and producer Timur Bekmambetov. The film begins as someone watches a a pretty shocking video of a young girl, Laura Barns, committing suicide that was shot from a smartphone. The someone watching turns out to be Blaire (Shelley Hennig) who is doing some “reminiscing” about Laura’s last moments when she gets a Skype call from her boyfriend, Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm). As the two engage in the timeless art of seduction, a group of friends all barge in on the call, but with an uninvited guest.
The group partakes in some idle chit chat while trying to find out who their guest is, but pass it off as a glitch. Blaire and her boyfriend begin to receive strange messages from Laura’s Facebook page and eventually starts to address the group in the Skype chat. Everyone believes it’s just someone playing a sick prank as it’s the anniversary of Laura’s suicide – that is until things get a little more sinister. Tension rises as the friends start turning on each other when forced and lead to reveal their most shameful secrets while trying to satisfy the wishes of the mystery hacker.
I definitely feel like there is supposed to be a hint of mystery to Cybernatural. Is it really the vengeful tech savvy spirit of Laura torturing her tormentors or is it just an equally tech savvy friend of Laura’s making her bullies squirm? Maybe it’s one of the friends in the Skype chat? The problem is that even before it becomes obvious what’s happening, the mystery isn’t really much of a mystery. And once you’re able to look past the transparency of “the who” of it all you can sit back and get some enjoyment out of “the why.” It’s still pretty obvious, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.
For a batch of MTV generation actors, the cast isn’t half bad. Given that the film plays out entirely on the screen of a computer (complete with internet browsing, iTunes music, Skype calls, ChatRoulette and iMessaging) it is a film made for the attention span of the MTV generation. It’s also a film about the dangers of cyber bullying, though with a supernatural twist. I don’t think the film has anything to really “say” about bullying, unless of course the message is just don’t do it or a cyber demon will come back a year later and totally mess you up.
Having a computer serve as the film’s canvas presents a couple of different issues. I felt the biggest problem is the inevitable scrambling of the screen during Skype calls. This is irritating enough in real life, but when you want to see what’s happening in pivotal moment, it becomes grating in a movie. While the screen scrambling was effective in building tension at some points, eventually it became annoying.
The other big issue with the computer viewpoint is that it makes the characters feel pretty hollow. Without seeing anyone interact in person, it’s tough to buy into some of the moments towards the end of the movie. Essentially, it’s people screaming at the camera and acting mad, sad or scared which is just kinda silly and unintentionally funny sometimes.
As a moviegoer I would see a movie like Cybernatural and walk out of the theater somewhat pleased, but probably not recommend it to anyone as something they have to go see. It’s the type of film that I’d watch on a whim while browsing Netflix for something to kill time while not being able to sleep and as a random Netflix watch it would be something I’d be pleasantly surprised by and probably recommend to friends as a “if you’ve got time” rental. The cast, the acting, the tension is all there, but the medium lends to frustration and a lack of empathy for the characters. Overall, Cybernatural is just a few “likes” away from going viral.