The internet scares the shit out of me. I deleted my Facebook. I only started on Twitter a couple years ago. I don’t use Snapchat. I don’t use Instagram. I unplugged my Alexa as soon as I found out it might be recording private conversations and sending them out. Why? Because the deeper we dive into the abyss of a techno-functioning world, the more we allow our entire lives to be run by machines...and psychotic hackers using every device we have to watch us and track us. These are the fears which Unfriended: Dark Web plays off of perfectly…
…Stephen Susco (The Grudge) writes/directs Unfriended: Dark Web, a chilling tale that plays on that flawed bit of the human conscious known as curiosity. The film tells the story of a guy named Matias (Colin Woodell), who steals a laptop from a cyber café and soon discovers that it belongs to a member of the dark web, a killer who is watching him and the friends he has invited into a group chat, and who will do anything he can to get it back. Meanwhile, in the backdrop of it all, Matias is struggling to repair his broken relationship with the love of his life, a mute girl named Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras).
I’m going to start by saying Matias may be the dumbest horror movie character I’ve watched in a while. In a theater where me and my friend were the only ones watching the film, I found myself constantly screaming at the screen, “what are you doing? Don’t do that!” I’m normally not that guy, far from it, but Matias, from the second he picks up that laptop until the final scene of Unfriended: Dark Web, commits misguided acts of stupidity so often that my eyes began to hurt from rolling over in my skull. As a horror fan, we’re all used to witnessing the average idiot going upstairs instead of leaving the house, or going outside to investigate a strange noise. What is so frustrating about Matias is that, in every instance where it seems like he has a chance to make things better, avoid trouble or save Amaya and his other friends, he decides to completely fuck it up instead!
Here’s the thing though: it works like a charm. Even though Matias is the kind of guy I would expect to take my dog for a walk and come back saying Storm (actual name) fell into a wood chipper somehow, Susco writes him in such a way that every action is completely believable. Curiosity is a powerful thing. Why do most of us slow down when we see a traffic accident and clog up the highway, likely causing more accidents? Curiosity. Tell me that if you discovered a laptop with a bunch of strange files on it, you wouldn’t spend a little time sifting through it and maybe show your friends? We both know you would. This is part of the brilliance of Unfriended: Dark Web, because with each move Matias makes, the suspense builds, and you squirm in your seat, knowing that he’s screwing up but unable to look away. Matias is the car accident we’re all watching a YouTube video of when we sit down in that dark theater.
Unfriended: Dark Web genuinely surprised me with how suspenseful it is. No, it isn’t like The Conjuring, where it’s going to throw scare after scare at you, hoping that your heart is going to suddenly explode out of your chest. Unfriended: Dark Web employs a different kind of suspense. Dread. The film sets the tone right from the beginning, starting us off with an argument over Skype between Matias and Amaya. From there on, Matias is fighting to keep what is happening a secret from Amaya, even though she may be in danger, while also try to patch things up with her, and keep his friends from leaving the chat, all of them demands from Charon, our mysterious killer. Imagine the pressure of convincing your significant other to stay with you while a killer tells you that you’d better be successful or else? Might as well just end me now, man, because I don’t think I can handle it.
While most of the kills are average (despite their shock value), some are actually quite creative, and all are framed within the usage of technology, which makes even a knife to the throat seem more inventive than usual. Keep in mind, the entire film takes place on the screen of Matias’ stolen laptop. At times, it can be thrilling to watch as Charon hacks the laptop and takes control, showing Matias and the others what is about to happen to each victim. We as the audience watch along helplessly as the moment builds. The fact that the entire film takes place in real time only help builds the tension of each death. It’s a fun technique used by the first film, though arguably more effective here.
And that’s perhaps Unfriended: Dark Web’s greatest achievement. It does everything a sequel is supposed to do. It ups the stakes. It gets creative. And most importantly, it’s DIFFERENT. This is NOT a rehash of the original Unfriended. Similar, yes, but in many ways quite different, and that’s a good thing. No one wants another film about a ghost haunting a group chat (at least I don’t). Sure, that was a good time for fans of the film, but I’ll take a cultish circle of web traffickers trading snuff videos over ghosts any day, because the concept of it is REAL. The events which take place in Unfriended: Dark Web, while extreme, could theoretically happen, and versions of these things DO happen. Hell, a hacker could have hacked your computer and is watching you right now. You’d never know. It’s a terrifying concept, and one that the film pulls off relatively well.
I say relatively, because Unfriended: Dark Web isn’t perfect. I already mentioned that Matias and some of his other friends aren’t exactly the brightest bunch of kids, but some of the end results of their decisions ask the audience to stretch their minds way beyond believability. (SPOILERS) Are we really expected to believe that the cult of Charon knew that Matias and his friends would do everything they did, from transferring the bit coins to downloading all the files to trying to save the girl who they know is the most recently kidnapped victim, Erica, all so that they could frame the damn kids and get rid of any traces leading back to them? Hell no. Unfriended: Dark Web could have simply left it at the idea that Charon had left the laptop as “bait” to lure in a group of “players” for their sick game, and I would’ve been fine with that. Going any further than that is a bit much. (END SPOILERS)
Unfriended: Dark Web is a film that, in many ways, is too real. It isn’t what I would call an “entertaining” film. I don’t think audiences are going to see this and be floored by it. It will creep them out. And it will probably make them jump, or even scream, but the sense of dread and lack of any entertainment value beyond that makes this one more of a one-time watch. The characters are average at best, the dialogue and action unremarkable. This is, after all, a film viewed entirely through a computer screen. So, while I don’t have an issue with it and enjoy constantly looking over the shoulders of characters on screen to see if someone is behind them, some fans may find the film to be unremarkable in terms of style, which is understandable.
Blumhouse has a penchant for making horror films on the darker end, and Unfriended: Dark Web may be one of their darkest. With an ending that will sit with me for a bit and a concept that is utterly chilling at its core, you can bet I’ll never even open someone’s private laptop, even if they’re a friend, because you never know what you’ll find. And if I see a laptop, hell, even a 4GB flash drive laying around in a public place, I’m running. If you haven’t seen the film yet, then consider one thing: We, like Charon and his pals, are watchers ourselves, enjoying the “stream”, as you could call it. So, while we may not be going out filming murders and “trading” them on the web, Unfriended: Dark Web proves that we all have that primal urge in us to watch “videos” like this happen to others. How’s that for a mood lifter?
Unfriended: Dark Web is currently downloading into theaters.
By Matt Konopka
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