Unfriended: Dark Web (United States, 2018)

July 20, 2018
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Unfriended: Dark Web Poster

If you’re familiar with the 2015 indie horror film Unfriended, you’ll have a good idea what to expect from the sequel, Dark Web. Using the same approach of making the entire film into a real-time clone of the laptop screen of the main character, the film lends new meaning to the term “cyberstalking.” It also shows how adept Millennials are at electronic multitasking. With seemingly no fewer than half-dozen things going on at the same time, it’s amazing they can keep things straight, especially when a killer comes to play.

Dark Web is a sequel only in that it mimics its predecessor’s style. The story and characters are new and, because the supernatural element has been eliminated, the movie adds a dash more suspense to go along with a heap of misanthropic nihilism. In an apples-to-apples comparison, the new film is slightly better than the first one. But keep in mind that this movie isn’t happy, soothing, or in any way comfortable. It’s best to come with the usual expectation for a horror movie that there’s going to be a high body count. Don’t get too attached to any of the characters.

The convincing appearance of the laptop screen gives Dark Web an uncanny sense of verisimilitude, with popular real-world applications like Skype and Facebook dominating the screen. Characters use searches, chat in multiple windows, and call upon Wikipedia when they don’t understand something. The world, even if it’s only a virtual one, feels lived-in. We can identify with it. That goes a long way toward allowing audiences to scale the admittedly high suspension of disbelief fence as the premise becomes increasingly fantastical. The movie struggles coming up with a semi-credible way to keep the participants/victims sitting at their computers. It’s only marginally less contrived than excuses given in “found footage” films for keeping the cameras rolling. It’s possible to argue that the Unfriended films represent the next generation of found footage.

Colin Woodell stars as Matias O’Brien, the college-age guy whose laptop screen we watch for about 90 minutes. It’s on-line game night for him and a few of his friends but he’s more worried about patching things up with his deaf girlfriend, Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras), and getting the kinks out of his new computer, which he bought “for cheap” from a Craigslist ad. The others playing with him are the newly engaged lesbian couple Serena (Rebecca Rittenhouse) and Nari (Betty Gabriel); Asian DJ Lexx (Savina Windyani); AJ (Connor Del Rio), a podcaster and Youtube poster who appears to live in his mother’s basement; and Damon (Andrew Lees), a tech-savvy guy based in London.

The problems begin when Matias admits that he didn’t buy the computer; he stole it. The original owner, named “Norah C. IV,” wants it back for reasons that become apparent when Matias discovers a hidden folder containing what appears to be a cache of snuff films. Lured onto the dark web to cyberchat with the entity “Charon IV,” Matias soon learns that he has stumbled into a situation that puts the lives of everyone he knows in immediate danger. As if to prove a point, the killer selects one of the friends to demonstrate his reach.

No one is going to mistake Dark Web for great art. It is, after all, a horror movie about a serial killer. The approach lends a sense of immediacy but, although the novelty aspect is a gimmick, it hasn’t yet been overused to the point where it feels tedious. Director Stephen Susco, making his behind-the-camera debut after writing a bunch of exploitation film screenplays, does a workmanlike job of establishing the characters and situation and gradually ramping up the tension. Susco understands that the purpose of any horror film is to deliver shocks and suspense and he succeeds in that regard. The cast doesn’t include any familiar faces.

Dark Web is unapologetically R-rated, which allows it to venture into sinister territory without becoming overly graphic. There are deaths, to be sure, but not a lot of blood. A lion’s share of the horror is left to the viewer’s imagination. Much ado about nothing has been made about the Clue-inspired multiple endings. There are apparently two distinct conclusions (it’s easy to guess where the break comes and, based on that, the different footage represents less than a minute of screen time) but neither alters the fundamental experience. Dark Web is aptly named. This is one of the bleakest films of 2018 and shouldn’t be seen by anyone expecting a few lighthearted jump-scares.

Unfriended: Dark Web (United States, 2018)

Director: Stephen Susco
Cast: Colin Woodell, Stephanie Nogueras, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Betty Gabriel, Savina Windyani, Connor Del Rio, Andrew Lees
Home Release Date: 2018-10-16
Screenplay: Stephen Susco
Cinematography: Kevin Stewart
U.S. Distributor: BH Tilt
Run Time: 1:28
U.S. Release Date: 2018-07-20
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Genre: Horror
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1