Movie Review: "Unfriended: Dark Web" (2018)
Let me give you the full disclosure of the highly unusual (for me, at least): I watched a sequel without seeing the original. I know, I know...that's some blasphemous shit. I never do that. However, I never got around to seeing 2014's Unfriended. I remember the buzz around it was generally pretty good; it ushered in the offshoot sub-genre of found footage that takes place on a computer screen that is starting to pop up more and more (pun intended).
I'm glad that it worked out this way, though. I know the first one was based in the paranormal. This one is not in the least, eschewing "classic" horror tropes in favor of the horrors of the real world and the dark web.
Alrighty, that's out of the way.
Unfriended: Dark Web takes us on a tale of unintended horror. Matias (Colin Woodell, The Purge TV series) takes a laptop that's been sitting in the lost & found of his local internet cafe for weeks to replace his slow, outdated one. He's developing a sign-language app for communication with his deaf girlfriend, Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras, Switched at Birth), and a new laptop is just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, this one is loaded with a bloated hard drive full of disturbing videos of murdered girls and their shockingly nasty demises, all of which are bid upon in bitcoin and used for entertainment. Matias discovers this during an online "Game Night" session of Cards Against Humanity with his good friends: newly engaged lesbian couple Serena (Rebecca Rittenhouse, The Mindy Project) & Nari (Betty Gabriel, Get Out), computer whizkid Damon (Andrew Lees, The Originals), paranoid podcaster/Youtuber AJ (Connor Del Rio, Level Up), & DJ Lexx (newcomer Savira Windyani). The laptop's owner wants it back and soon makes it apparent that he's watching their every move. He can get to them any time he wants and has a network of fellow dark web psychos with him.
This is very much of a tech generation kind of horror film, and I don't mean that in a bad way. Still, the entire thing is done as if you are watching it on the screen of a Mac, and it takes a heavy amount of good, old-fashioned "suspension of disbelief". It's easy to see horror traditionalists not caring for the style of presentation, but I have no problem with it. Horror doesn't always have to be about monsters, ghosts, and slashers in the 1980's. In fact, there's a strong bent of the classic moral/cautionary tale as it pertains to the dangers of technology and how it can be used to indulge the darkest side of human nature. The theme is strongly (almost heavy-handedly) presented front and center.
And dark is most certainly what they were going for here. When Unfriended: Dark Web works most effectively is in the manner of how victims (both those on the videos and Matias' friends) are dispatched. It's first-rate ugly and borderline snuff. There are no punches pulled. You're supposed to be a little disgusted, and it works quite well on that level. The horror born of just how sheerly fucked up this is shines through in stark hideousness.
However, the presentation as a whole is all over the place. Much of that is owed to this new style of found footage that it is shot in, but equal criticism must be given to a protagonist that just isn't that easy to feel bad for. Each of the characters is a bit of a stereotype (the conspiracy theorist is the comic relief, the hacker makes a sickeningly convenient piece of plot exposition, et cetera). There's not a lot of sympathy to be had for them. That's not a killer, but it is noticeable and occasionally jarring.
I've also seen some vitriol from those who did see the first one. I'm no computer whizkid (and I hate Macs), but apparently there are some glaring technical issues with how all of the back and forth between Skype, Facebook, & the (dark) web works. I wouldn't know, but I'll take the real geeks collective word for it. There also seems to be much more "love", if you will, for the original Unfriended.
Despite all of that, I was entertained by Unfriended: Dark Web. It did some awfully dark shit with a clumsily ugly style that I couldn't help but applaud. Is that because I've never seen the original for comparison? I can't say, really. I just know the world is a dark and nasty place. The real world "Dark Web" is proof of that, with it's nasty treasure trove of black market goods, snuff, kiddie porn and God knows what else. That alone makes the premise and the theme valid.
At the very least, they set out to make a ballsy and exceptionally dark movie that was quite different from the original. On that score, they succeeded masterfully. There's a nice vibe of 8MM with a fucked up twist for the next generation. It may not be worth repeated viewings, but it's definitely worth hour and a half of your life.
After all, you'd probably be spending it on your phone or in front of a computer anyways. Just what are you looking at? Who's looking at you?