Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

Director: Stephen Susco
Notable Cast: Colin Woodell, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Connor Del Rio, Stephanie Nogueras, Savira Windyani, Chelsea Alden, Alexa Mansour, Douglas Tait

After the breakout success of 2015’s Unfriended, which was a surprise box office success, it wasn’t that hard to imagine Blumhouse pumping out a sequel or two for the film. As with so many other found footage horror films, they were cheap to make and even if it had half a decent marketing campaign it was going to be profitable. The fact that it took three years for Unfriended: Dark Web to hit theaters is something of a surprise. Particularly when it was revealed that the film would not be a direct sequel to the previous entry, but a stylistically thematic one that dealt with the hideous corners of the Dark Web versus a supernatural entity. Still, the film is out now and while it has hit the headlines by being a surprise box office letdown (it only made under $4 million opening weekend versus the original one which banked in over $15 million on its opening weekend,) Dark Web is hardly the massive let down that would indicate. It’s more of the same stylistically, but it’s a bit different in tone and approach to the style which means that there will definitely be mixed feelings about the film. Overall, Dark Web is a few shades lesser than its predecessor, but it’s still an intense little low budget horror flick worthy of a watch for fans. 

Can't you see that on YOUR screen?!
As mentioned, the big change between this sequel and its predecessor is that Dark Web does not have the supernatural element to ‘explain’ (and I use that word very loosely) the events and plot developments of the narrative. This time, the group of would be victims/protagonists are young working men and women who are getting together via a Skype like video chatting service to participate in some chatter and do their regular game night. It’s revealed that the main character, Matias, has taken home a laptop he found in a cafĂ© to use as his own. This, naturally, means shit is going down since the laptop belonged to someone who was using it to record information for use on the dark web. No ghosts. Just some very questionable people with some very talented hacking skills and the will to take back what is theirs.

Unlike the first film, Dark Web doesn’t quite have the layered message underneath its narrative to give it some weight. There is some decent depth to a few of the characters, particularly our main protagonist Matias and his girlfriend Amaya, that really digs into how technology doesn’t necessarily help people communicate with one another as much as make it more complicated. This is most obvious in how Matias is creating a new program on the computer to help him speak with Amaya, who is deaf, or to lesser extents in how one character uses the internet to talk conspiracy theories and how a couple is not sure how to share their recent engagement with their friends. Again, the use of a social message around the use of technology is there, but it doesn’t seem quite as clever this time around.

No matter how hard the film tries, the plotting requires a lot of leaps in faith for the audience to buy into the entire thing. The villain of the film is able to distort his look on camera, use popular chatting formats and erase them at a whim, and do other web trickery that seems extremely far fetched since the film is presented in real time. On top of that, most of the characters seemingly make some terrible decisions. Some of that could be written off in the first one to being dumb teens (it’s convenient, but if you’ve ever lived with teens as an adult, you understand just how ridiculously illogical they can be) and this film doesn’t have that to go with it. As the various characters meet their doom, Dark Web tries to make a lot of the deaths memorable, but in doing so can sacrifice logic along the way. The film loves to bring out some dark stuff, particularly by the third act as the pieces of the scattered plot start to fall in place and that is more disturbing than what was presented in the first film, but even then Dark Web is more or less mixed in how it is able to present it.

Despite its inherent foundational flaws, Dark Web retains a few things that really do make it an effective little horror film. The tension can be quite effective at times, particularly when the plot requires some significant build to its next plot point, and the performances are rather effective even when the script is having characters do silly things for the sake of keeping the pace. The pacing is impressively brisk, making sure that when the film starts to derail itself with poor logic that it never dwells on things long enough for the audience to wallow. In these regards, Dark Web does a decent job with what it has to offer.

Well isn't that a fun trick?
It also should be mentioned at this point that Dark Web was released theatrically with two different endings. I’m not so sure it was advertised as such, but I wasn’t aware of it until I was talking with a friend about the film and we realized we saw two different endings to it. The one I saw was rather mediocre and rather illogical, but it does sound like the other one is much better overall. Keep that in mind if you do see this in theaters before it gets pulled. I’m sure the home video release will have both.

All in all, Unfriended: Dark Web is not a huge step down from the previous film, but it is a weaker horror film overall.  Where it does succeed in its performances, horrific death sequences, and pacing can ultimately be undermined by the patch script and illogical reason for how suspense and plot progressions are built into the film. For fans of found footage horror, it’s a decent film, but those who perhaps were skeptical to begin with Dark Web is not going to change your mind.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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