Ghosts are about as scary to me as a stiff breeze.
Something about anyone coming back after death to slam doors and blow out candles passes right through me, and if you think that pun wasn’t intended I got news for you.
If someone dies and manages to keep a grip on their ego, they’re not gonna make spooky faces at the family that rents the condo built on top of their civil war battlefield.
At least that’s how I used to feel. But then, I saw the movie Unfriended and I gotta say, it’s the first movie I’ve ever seen that does ghosts right. Ghosts aren’t something that come for us from a long-time-ago grave, ghosts are something we build for ourselves.
Let me start to unpack that with some bad news: I’m gonna die. Not any time soon I don’t think. This isn’t some Fault In Our Stars thing I’m inviting you into, I mean I’m gonna die.
But the weird thing is that this blog won’t. As long as there’s an internet, my blog, my Facebook, even the half-formed army of failed Twitters (not a one of them made it past the Egg stage) will all stick out of the ground like snarky white crosses on the side of the information super highway.
And that’s how ghosts work, now.
I still get notifications from dead Facebook friends. Family members or loved ones keeping the torches lit online. But it’s eerie. It’s weird to have these lingering shades of people that aren’t anymore. And this is where Unfriended works. It lives in that blue glow.
The entire film takes place on the protagonist’s laptop screen. Boyfriends and friends skype in and out, apps open and close, the entire cyber graveyard opens up to the ghost story of Unfriended.
And it’s terrifying in how simple it is. A group of friends cyber-bully a girl, Amanda Barnes, into suicide, and her vengeful ghost comes back to fuck ’em up.
But it’s the way it all works, the way the ghost, complete with Spotify, Facebook, and gchat, turns the way we immortalize ourselves into lethal weapons. These teens put that girl to death, and suddenly they’re being spammed with their own sins.
Those sins, by the way, are not incidental, as the Internet continues to evolve and sharpen into more and more avenues of shaming and teasing and bullying. Trolling has become a pastime and a cause for some, and a torment for others. It’s a cold and brutal world in the blue light of the computer. Unfriended knows that, and uses it. Chat logs and memes and even the deplorable phenomenon of “revenge porn” become weapons of the ghost the same way they’re weaponized in real life.
Cyber bullying is a new kind of horror story. Melania Trump has declared that it will be her rallying cry as First Lady (despite Donald Trump’s thriving persona as a borderline parody of a cyber bully, tweeting insults and making very-tiny-hamfisted threats at any oppositional voice) and campaign after campaign after celebrity endorsed campaign has promised to stop it.
But it hasn’t stopped, it hasn’t evolved, it lingers and haunts every citizen of cyberspace like Unfriended’s bloodthirsty Amanda Barnes.
The movie sets up rules, and like any good movie breaks it’s back to follow them. Nobody dies from “ghost” in the movie. The vengeful spirit uses pictures and videos and playlists to goad its victims into suicide, the way they did her.
The internet will outlive us. As long as the wifi towers blink on, and the ethernet webs spin more and more, wider and wider, into a new world all its own, the Internet will be there, an afterlife of sorts, archiving our egos and keeping our selves online.