Stephen Susco’s Unfriended: Dark Web – quite spectacularly – clears its cache of any historical connections to Leo Gabriadze’s original Unfriended. Gone is Laura Barns, swapped out for Dark Web “realities” and glitch mob superhackers who emerge from the world wide web’s seediest reaches. Once again Skype brings people together, and once again they’re hunted one by one while their webcams record it all. Familiar? Yes. Executed with equal menace? Not for a millisecond. Ghost Barns’ revenge is blindly ignored and doubled-back on, as this keyboard Game Night abomination can’t even hold a candle to the Blumhouse films of 2018 – the same year Truth Or Dare was released.
Our main voyeuristic focus is Matias (Colin Woodell), a frustrated boyfriend who “finds” his new laptop in a lost and found bin. He’s simultaneously trying to win back girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras) and enjoy an online hang session with geographically spaced friends, but then an unknown user interrupts their party. Turns out the laptop’s owner tracked Matias’ digital footprint, can override security permissions and will not stop until his property is returned. So what does Matias do? He snoops farther and clicks into a folder of video clips never meant to exposed, which is when the *real* fun begins. Welcome to the Dark Web.
From inception to finality, Unfriended: Dark Web opts for choke-out conspiracy tampering over vindictive cyberbully commentaries. Laura Barns’ rampage couldn’t be rationalized because of her very dead (and tragic) circumstance, but the scourge of Charon replicants that Susco unleashes logs an undefined protocol. Their mastery of loaded encryptions could hack nuclear mainframe codes if needed, yet they can also *physically* stealth around, distort camera feeds whenever on-screen and display inhuman attributes? Even though they’re very much (twisted, out of control) at-home users? Unfriended: Dark Web tries to have its cake and eat it, too – mastermind digital technicians who come and go as ghouls – but offers a much weaker “demon” worth fearing this time around. Strike one.
In Unfriended, high school teens fall victim to their own careless social media devices – but Unfriended: Dark Web goes an older route with vastly less enjoyable results. As onlookers nervously play Cards Against Humanity while Matias attempts to beat “Charon” at his/her own game, concerned faces and justice seekers drain a sense of fear. Connor Del Rio’s YouTube personality schtick is the kind of aggressive caricature that Unfriended didn’t need, although Betty Gabriel as Nari still proves herself to be a Blumhouse workhorse who can massage magnificent character work no matter the character.
But worst of all? Woodell – playing the boyfriend who develops an ASL app for the love of his life instead of learning himself – prototypes the frustrating brand of “protagonist” who we generate no sympathy for, nor does the film want us to. I understand that. Too bad it makes for a tuned-out watch where mustering even half a lick of care for the innocents on-screen never happens.
What Susco aims to achieve is vile, on-the-nose internet commentary that overturns stones so many still stay ignorant to. Matias and his gang catch glimpses of distressing trends caused by mass media consumption and zero boundaries. Moral abominations people pay money for. Violence and murder and torture through a dirty lens with intent hellbent on screaming helplessly towards society’s screenwashed masses.
Is such frustration achieved? Soullessly so, which sinks “entertainment value” or messaging that we’re supposed to absorb. Where Unfriended invites audiences to participate in supernatural doom-bringing on a techno-horror level, Unfriended: Dark Web never reaches its audience by breaking through the screen. It’s punishment without purpose. At least in this reviewer’s case (some of you may love this narcissistic video chat nightmare).
Frankly, I shouldn’t compare Unfriended and Unfriended: Dark Web. The first film took social media horror and blended it with knock-down scares and devious schoolyard games turned sadistic (plus ground hand meat). It was engaging, hyper-energized and effortlessly creepy – everything Unfriended: Dark Web fails to be. Steven Susco’s seedy binary tumble straight past even the most despicable extent of subreddit culture never challenges genre thinking beyond “isn’t the internet evil?” After Unfriended, Unfriended: Dark Web is a monumental disappointment on every comparable front (if you ask me and not multiple colleagues who raved about the very issues described here, in fairness).
Unfriended: Dark Web takes all the most engaging and horrifying techno-horror qualities from Unfriended and wipes the cache disappointingly clean.