Within the supernatural teen subgenre, Shelley Hennig has done it all. She’s played both hunted and hunter, mystically-powered and plainly mortal, and even the first damsel killed off to the last teen standing.
In her latest movie, Unfriended, Hennig stars as Blaire, a high school girl enjoying a breezy Skype session with her friends—that is, until an unfriendly spirit decides to pay their chatroom a visit. The murderous, trolling ghost exposes the friends’ digital dirty laundry (everything from cyberbullying YouTube comments to incriminating party photos) and starts killing them off one by one, even forcing them into playing a lethal game of “Never Have I Ever.” What makes the film stand out in a sea of disposable teen horror flicks is how it incorporates the technologically-entwined lives of today’s youth, as well as its unique setting—taking place entirely on Blaire’s computer screen via video calls and applications.
“My first audition was Skyping with an actor in another room and I just thought that was so bizarre and unique that it was love at first sight,” Hennig told The Daily Beast. “I’d never seen anything like it, and that’s why I was super interested in getting involved.”
The movie’s casting director thought Hennig would be a perfect fit for Blaire, bringing her in to meet the filmmakers. She booked the gig and was ready for the haunting to begin—which was unlike any other experience for the actress.
“Normally when you’re doing a film, they call action but there’s like 30 or 40 people around. With this movie, I was alone in my bedroom,” Hennig says. “Everything was different, so everything was sort of a challenge. They wrote a great story and allowed us to improvise on top of that. And that’s how we really figured out who our characters were and built chemistry with each other.”
Unfriended’s filming took place entirely in one house, with each actor in their own room being filmed in real time by their laptop cameras. When the characters on screen went to Google something or respond to Facebook messages, the actors matched the action on their own computers to help genuinely pace the movie. But this was done solely to help bring authenticity to the film. The final product of top-right corner notifications and mouse clicks that audiences get to see was made through nifty editing and a team of animators.
She even suggested to the film’s writer Nelson Greaves and director Leo Gabriadze that they try filming it all in one 80-minute take—an idea that had her co-stars freaking out at first, but proved to be valuable. A good chunk of the one-take footage ended up in the final cut.
The screen audiences watch all the carnage play out on eerily resembles a high school girl’s Macbook desktop, complete with Forever 21 and Jezebel bookmarked to her browser.
“I wouldn’t say it’s similar to Blaire at all, actually,” Hennig jokes about her personal Internet habits. “I don’t really use my laptop very often, but I guess my phone is pretty much the same thing. I’m big into the ZARA app,” she chuckles.
And Unfriended isn’t Hennig’s first supernatural teen rodeo. After starting off as Miss Teen USA 2004 and playing a recurring character on the soap opera Days of Our Lives, she landed a lead role on the CW’s The Secret Circle playing a teenage witch. If that wasn’t enough, last year she was in the horror flick Ouija where she was offed by yet another malevolent phantom.
But she’s perhaps best known for her role on MTV’s popular Teen Wolf, where she plays the headstrong werecoyote Malia. Her character is a young woman who’d remained trapped in her canine form for the bulk of her childhood and the current love interest of Stiles, portrayed by young Hollywood heartthrob Dylan O’Brien. To give you a taste of what Teen Wolf is about, in one episode this past season Stiles’ dad asks her what her favorite food is. Malia sincerely and salivatingly responds with “deer,” forgetting her now-human form.
“Sometimes there was filming both in one week, both Teen Wolf and Unfriended, so it’d be a little confusing. Like I’d go to set and all of a sudden Blaire is aggressive and people are like ‘Whoa what are you doing,’” she laughs. “Then I’d have to remind myself, ‘Oh right, I’m Blaire today, I’m Blaire for the next two hours,’ but it all worked out and I really enjoyed playing both characters. They’re nothing alike.”
And getting to choose what superhuman abilities she’d most like to have from her past roles isn’t something she can easily answer.
“Can you combine the two? A were-witch?” Hennig ponders. “Both were fun in different ways, it’s fun being a werecoyote because you physically transition whereas with playing the witch there wasn’t that aspect, but who doesn’t love magic.”
Panels and signings at events like Comic-Con come with the job of being on otherworldly shows like Teen Wolf that have huge fan followings. Comic-Con 2014 was Hennig’s first time at the massive pop culture extravaganza, but the onslaught of costumes and festivities jived with her New Orleans roots.
“You know the costuming and the effort and passion that people have. And I find that you meet a lot of those people at these conventions. I can really appreciate that,” she says.
As for her biggest fear? Natural disasters. And there’s nothing paranormal about those.