Time will hopefully change the lackluster response to the Blumhouse computer screen based horror film Unfriended. What could have been simply a gimmick was turned into a relevant, modern tale of cyberbullying. The film also confidently rendered this generation of teen's use of apps and the internet to connect to one another. It was by no means a perfect film but it was an exciting one. Horror should reflect personal and societal fears and Unfriended did so in a fresh way.
Now comes a sequel of sorts. Unfriended: Dark Web uses the same computer screen approach but that is about the only thing that qualifies it as a sequel. It is more of a thematic sequel than a direct continuation of the story in the first film. The film opens on a login screen to a laptop while Matias (Colin Woodell) attempts to guess the password, resulting in a few good laughs at the nature of passwords. It is clear that this laptop is not his. As he begins to log in to his favorite apps, Spotify, Skype, and Facebook, he ends up logged into the laptop owner's Facebook profile. He decides to take a peak and is immediately flooded with messages from a pretty woman who are all waiting for plane tickets to be sent their way. Matias ignores things at first, trying to patch up his relationship with his deaf girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras).
The tension builds as Matias begins his game night on Skype with his friends. They are a slew of archetypes. There is tech savvy Damon (Andrew Lees), sweet-natured Nori (Betty Gabriel) and Serena (Rebecca Rittenhouse) who are getting engaged, musician Lexx (Savira Windyani) and conspiracy kook AJ (Conner Del Rio). As their night begins, it keeps getting interrupted. Matias soon finds a hidden folder on the laptop full of disturbing videos that border on snuff films. The owner of the laptop begins to reach out and the gang gets sucked into a harrowing situation that connects to the dark web and a secret group who get paid to create these films for sickos.
Stephen Susco directs the film with a sure hand, balancing the narrative with jolts and twists along the way. Dark Web is a stronger film than its predecessor because it never veers into the supernatural realm. Instead, the film stays mostly grounded in reality while it transforms from a mystery to full-on horror. The film's best moments feel like they could happen. This is thanks to the film's interweaving of new online buzz topics like Bitcoin and swatting.
While the acting is never a distraction, it also fails to transcend the archetype nature of the written characters. We soon realize Dark Web is headed on a grim trajectory, much like the first Unfriended but that doesn't deter from the power the film has. Especially early on when the story is building tension and suspense around plausible actions. Dark Web eventually leads to a bigger story that loses some of the immediacies of its first half. While I wouldn't call Dark Web a good time, it is intriguing and freaky in the way it presents the internet as a harbor for dangerous people.