The internet is your friend and like most friendships, they can grow and evolve or become toxic and unhealthy. Parents put safeguards on their kids’ phones and computers to shield them from the dangers of oversharing shall we say; but sooner or later the training wheels come off and those kids will have to learn to navigate the online jungle of wisdom, insight, inspiration, misinformation, low-brow entertainment, self-destructive tendencies, and nefarious agendas. The internet really is the world at your fingertips, warts and all, and it can just as easily manipulate you into embracing feelings of prejudice and paranoia. Or it can enhance your life and make you feel emotionally connected and more prepared to handle any obstacles that come your way. All good qualities you would expect in a good friend. So what about a bad friend? If a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met, then prepare to meet all the bad friends you can handle.
In Unfriended: Dark Web, written and directed by Stephen Susco, Matias (Colin Woodell) has recently acquired a used laptop belonging to someone named Norah. As he updates the computer’s programs to his own personal logins, he does a video chat with his deaf girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras). He then Skypes into a group chat with his friends for another evening of game night. When Matias’ computer begins to exhibit strange glitches, he researches and discovers locked folders. The contents and the previous user who created them are part of an underground enterprise known as the dark web. All manner of depraved and illegal activity is housed and hidden from the public. Before Matias can escape what he has seen and move on, the danger has reached Amaya, his friends and himself. The faceless entities that reside somewhere beyond his reach will stop at nothing to cover their tracks, even if it means murder. Can Matias save his friends in time or has the clock already run out?
I’ll be frank and say that I thoroughly despised the first Unfriended movie. I thought it lacked any imagination other than having the ghost of a dead girl haunting her friends’ computers. I equated all the murderous shenanigans to a Bugs Bunny cartoon where he had control of the pencil and would torment Daffy Duck. Except the movie took itself too seriously and the humor just died out. I also did not appreciate the movie only using 1/8 the movie’s screen size. I felt like I was watching a laptop from twenty feet away.
This sequel actually makes improvements to the premise and almost changes the entire narrative of the franchise. Instead of a ghost, the threat is a physical, flesh and blood individual. Or individuals. They have so much knowledge regarding computer hacking and remote access control that it’s legitimately scary to watch them work their black magic. Fear of the unknown is scary; but when it’s a realistic unknown like a predator with all the technological power of Neo from the Matrix, it is terrifying. So in that respect, this movie succeeded in its goal.
The main actors as an ensemble actually work well here. It’s a group of stereotypes, but they try to switch things up and there is chemistry. You have Matias, the forlorn boyfriend who struggles to connect with the love of his life. Serena and Nari, the engaged couple who have a mother dying of cancer. Damon, the invaluable British tech wizard that is around mostly for necessary exposition. Lexx, the Asian DJ, and AJ, the loud, inappropriate goofball who lives in his mother’s basement. I think the caliber of actors is better than last time, but their script could have used a polish.
What I find frightening about this movie is also what I find fascinating. It’s like watching a Law and Order SVU episode that is filled with scenes of the bad guy tormenting the victims, but you are never told who the bad guy is. The cops are nowhere to be seen and the tension just grows to an intolerable level. You can eventual see how it’s all going to play out, but you have that glimmer of hope that it might change course. This movie plays that game more than a few times.
While I did enjoy this sequel over its predecessor, and the fact that they use more of the screen this time, the behavior of some of the characters kept moving towards the unrealistic. The dialogue is uneven here and there and certain plot choices that don’t work. Still, the terror transcends those moments and you are never emotionally separated from the danger.
Unfriended: Dark Web doesn’t ignore the previous film, there is a reference that ties it in, but it also does a good job carving its own path. I was glad to see Betty Gabriel in this movie as Nari. She did the film Get Out last year. I was also impressed with the use of sign language in this film. It added a unique level of suspense that is starting to be utilized more often in scary movies. In modern day horror films, there are just too many ways to warn someone they’re in danger. Amaya’s presence eliminates a few of those methods. I wish there was more for her to do than what she was given, but it was more Matias’ story. I’m actually recommending you see this in a theater. It’s not only a brilliant concept for a horror movie, it’s a public service announcement to watch what you do on the internet. Although after what I saw, maybe it’s best you stay off completely and just play board games. At least if someone tries to kill you buying Park Place, you’ll have a fighting chance.
About Unfriended: Dark Web
Synopsis: A teen comes into possession of a new laptop and soon discovers that the previous owner is not only watching him, but will also do anything to get it back.
Director: Stephen Susco
Writer: Stephen Susco
Stars: Colin Woodell, Stephanie Nogueras, Betty Gabriel, Chelsea Alden, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Savira Windyani, Connor Del Rio
Runtime: 1 Hour, 28 Minutes