Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

10 Dec

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

OK, let’s get this out of the way—the only thing “Unfriended: Dark Web” has in common with “Unfriended,” the 2015 film to which it claims to be a sequel (or continuation), is that they both occur in real-time via computer screen. That’s about it. They’re both horror films (although one is more of a supernatural horror and the other is along the line of psychological terror) that happen to share the same in-computer gimmick. (And just a couple months after “Dark Web” was released, we got “Searching,” a superior thriller that did even more with the gimmick. But we’re not going into that topic today.) I should be annoyed by this bit of lazy marketing, but at the same time…I don’t want a sequel to “Unfriended,” a film that works perfectly fine as a stand-alone story. So, instead of getting that, we have something different that also carries the name “Unfriended” above its title “Dark Web.” How does it work as its own creation?

Both “Unfriended” and “Dark Web” are horror films that serve as parables for how the Internet rules our lives. With the former, it was a cautionary tale about cyber-bullying. With the latter, it’s about how we often take the Internet for granted. While neither of them are to be taken too seriously (they are mainstream escapist entertainments after all), they do provide good attempts at capturing the essence of how we live online and commenting on it as well. You could laugh at them, listen to them, or simply accept them for what they are and do both… That’s sort of where I stand. I’ve watched “Unfriended” countless times since I wrote a three-star review for it, and I’ve since regarded it as one of the more entertaining horror films in the past few years. Time will tell whether or not I’ll look at “Dark Web” the same, but…it is still a solid film and I’m recommending it.

As I’ve mentioned, “Dark Web” is a sequel in name and style only. The story and characters are different, there’s a different killer attacking our logged-in Millennial protagonists, and the film digs deep into the concept of cyber-stalking (as much as it can, given limited information prior to production—I don’t know how accurate this film in depicting the Dark Web). The 90-minute hell ride begins as college-aged Matias (Colin Woodell) logs onto a laptop he stole from a cyber café (he claims it had been in the lost-and-found for weeks). He looks through it to get used to it and tries out a new app he’s created that will allow him to communicate better with his deaf girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras), before engaging in online game night with his friends, which include conspiracy-theory podcaster AJ (Connor Del Rio), lesbian couple Serena (Rebecca Rittenhouse) & Nari (Betty Gabriel), English techie Damon (Andrew Lees), and Asian DJ Lexx (Savina Windyani). Soon enough, problems arise when the original owner of the laptop, known as “Charon IV,” communicates with Matias, demanding his laptop back. When Matias digs deeper into the hidden files in the laptop, it becomes clear that this is no game. Things get even more serious when Charon IV reveals there’s far more here than meets the eye, and before long, Matias must use his wits to find ways to save himself and his friends before people start getting killed one by one…

I have to admire both “Unfriended” movies for being able to turn out stories that couldn’t have been easy to develop with the limitations of telling them in real-time and keeping them restricted to the perspective of one laptop screen. There are some glitches and technical errors here and there (even when they try to capture the realism of when our machines often break down, there are some little things that are easy to nitpick), but they still do well at capturing the realism well enough so that I’m not taken out of the movie altogether. I suppose my biggest gripe with the technical aspect of “Dark Web” was that the video is too crystal clear for anyone who has ever engaged in Skype video calls to take seriously—I guess it was to show a contrast for the static-fueled glitches that occur whenever the Dark Web users enter the video screens, but it’s not particularly subtle. But even that is taking too much from a nitpick.

In ditching the supernatural aspect that kept the story for “Unfriended” going, “Dark Web” goes for a more “realistic” approach and made it more of a dark thriller that has something to say about how dangerous it is to spend much of our lives online. For those who are affected by this approach, it is either going to lose viewers by losing their credibility or depressing them. I simply saw it as a horror film—nothing more, nothing less. The acting was decent, the story kept me guessing, I liked the twists and turns (especially ones that were aided by the main character trying to keep the main plot secret from his friends as he knows the laptop owner is watching his every click), and while it didn’t leave me with as much of an impact as something like “Searching,” I still appreciate its ability to do much with very few.

I’m not going to get into the multiple endings that “Unfriended: Dark Web” has been known for since it was originally revealed the studio just didn’t know how to end it… But I will say I like the original alternate ending a little better than the DVD’s alternate endings and especially more than the theatrical ending.

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