Sunday night saw the world premiere of Timur Bekmambetov's newest production venture Cybernatural directed by Leo Gabriadze.
An online chat between six high schoolers is interrupted by a seventh participant claiming to be a classmate that they cyber-bullied to suicide one year before. At first, they dismiss it as a sick joke, but when they start dying in front of their eyes, they realize they've no choice but to play its deadly game.
This was a fun movie. Considering that it is solely comprised of computer desktops and Skype view screens, I was surprised by how well this worked. The filmmakers have carved out a new narrative here by implementing the technology that we use everyday. Much like the J-horror invasion at the turn of the century, Cybernatural causes us to look at how vulnerable our always-connected lifestyles make us. I think this type of storytelling could really find a horror foothold, especially within the generation for which it is now second nature.
Cybernatural definitely has the potential to become a hit and I found it far more technically impressive than the Paranormal Activity flicks. I think it works better as a whole, evn if its individual set pieces are not as pronounced. I mean, there's only so much you can do with the stuttering and pixelated realities of Skype feeds.
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I don't want to understate the storytelling though. Gabriadze envisioned this almost like a stage play, so everything was shot in real time with very long takes, which he then tweaked day-by-day. It's not a perfect medium, as multiple windows of characters yelling over one-another can be overwhelming, but it never – except for the Facebook wall death sequence which seemed a little over-the-top – strays from the world it creates.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Cybernatural is that it somehow circumvented copyrights. Timur must have some very good lawyers because pretty much every major online institution is represented here. It helps the production immensely because recreating an online experience on film becomes much less tangible when you see stuff like Schmoogle and MyFace. By using the real deal – these characters had Facebook walls, iTunes playlists and YouTube accounts – they successfully maintained a world that mirrored our own.
The following Q&A, befitting the film we had just watched, featured seven participants. Gabriadze and producer Adam Sidman were live on stage and Bekmambetov, writer Nelson Greaves and actors Shelley Hennig, Courtney Halverson & Moses Jacob Storm joined via Skype.
Cybernatural is an experimental film that won't play with everyone, but if you are looking for a fresh take on a supernatural tale, then I urge you to check it out.