“Unfriended: Dark Web” dives into unexplored horror territory with mostly successful results

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Blumhouse Productions | Daily Texan Staff

It’s tough to review a film like “Unfriended: Dark Web”.

It has no real characters to latch on to, instead placing all of its bets that its scares will work. So does review the film on a general scale or from that of its intended horror audience? Well, since it’s doubtful that anyone without attachment to the genre will go see this film, this review will take the latter approach.

Whenever “Unfriended” came out in 2015, it was a bit of a surprise- a clever, suspenseful flick that managed to sneak in some dark comedy. By the time it was announced that its sequel would be premiering at this year’s SXSW, it was hard not to get excited.

A bit of a disclaimer, “Unfriended: Dark Web” has no ties to the original outside of being a horror presented on a single character’s MacBook screen. That being said, it has a far more terrifying concept this time around.

When Matias (Colin Woodell) steals a laptop to be able to work on his new app, he thinks nothing of it as he logs in to Skype for a game night with his friends. However, whenever he opens up the hard-drive of his new computer, he finds the previous owner was a trader of murder videos on the “dark web”, a hidden part of the internet where illicit activities occur.

The previous owner of the laptop, “Charon IV”, gets in touch with Matias, threatening to kill his girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras) if he doesn’t give the laptop back. Matias intends to cooperate until the higher-ups in Charon IV’s trade, known as “The Circle” get involved.

What makes “Unfriended: Dark Web” work so well is also its biggest difference from the first film: its grounding. The horrors of the dark web are, to an extent, very real, so seeing Matias try, desperately, to undo his mistake is really hard to watch. Nevertheless, Woodell’s performance is a very small part of this.

The cast do an admirable job of acting alternately scared and confused, but their characters fail to leave any sort of an impression. Betty Gabriel, of “Get Out” and even the festival’s own “Upgrade”, deserves better material than this. Thankfully, the film has plenty more to offer than this.

As mentioned before, there’s something very real about “Unfriended: Dark Web”. It’s largely bloodless, and the danger seems inescapable. Credit must be given to writer-director Stephen Susco for a making a horror that, in this day and age, feels viable.

Susco is absolutely cruel to these characters, and that’s the movie’s strength. Because we don’t necessarily care about what happens to them, there’s no barrier to the leads meeting unspeakable end. What’s most surprising, however, is that this film dives deep into psychological horror.

The Circle plays mind games with Matias that tap into the “oh my god, what if this happened to me?” kind of horror that most films can only hope to hit. Moreover, the film creates an in-depth universe and rules of how it works. This sort of planning and response is exactly what makes films like “Insidious” such horror staples.

“Unfriended: Dark Web” may not have the characters that made the original so memorable, but it’s a sharp scare-fest with an original concept that is sure to make the audience imagine things ever time they log on to the internet.

 

“Unfriended: Dark Web”

Running Time: 88 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated

Score: 3.5/5 stars