Unfriended: Dark Web, 2018.
Written and Directed by Stephen Susco.
Starring Colin Woodell, Stephanie Nogueras, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Chelsea Alden, Ashton Smiley, Savira Windyani, Connor Del Rio, and Douglas Tait.
A teen comes into possession of a new laptop and soon discovers that the previous owner is not only watching him, but will also do anything to get it back.
Substituting for beyond the grave supernatural revenge is a refreshing and more grounded approach to horror, as Unfriended: Dark Web sticks with the ambitious concept of telling a story entirely through computer screens while incorporating serious dangers of the Internet, such as hacking, specifically speaking about doxxing and DDoS attacks. If there’s one thing I hope anyone takes away from this atrocious, vile, mean-spirited, god-awful exercise in terror, it’s that some of what is being depicted is actually real. There are programs that can automatically hack secure passwords, ways to remotely control another person’s desktop, and methods to spy on others using the built-in camera on any device. To what extent this is possible for the common person, I don’t know, but these are all invasive matters of privacy that exist within the realm of technology.
The problem is that Unfriended: Dark Web (written and directed by Stephen Susco, who while having participated on quite a few horror projects including helping scribe The Grudge, is making his filmmaking debut behind the camera) isn’t interested in taking these real-world digital crimes and using them to tell an intelligent cautionary tale. If anything, and this is similar to the first movie, Dark Web is only concerned with punishing its characters and placing them in an unwinnable situation. Granted, some of these young adults are dumb, make terrible decisions, and will undoubtedly get on your nerves, possibly all to the point where viewers cheer on their inevitable demise, but parts get far too disturbing for comfort or entertainment value. None of this would matter if the narrative had any substance. Pushing buttons is all well and good, but there needs to be a meaningful purpose.
To make matters worse, the movie begins jumping the shark and getting so unrealistically out of control that whatever message the script may have had initial intentions of getting across is diluted to nonexistence. Given the fact that virtually every human being with an Internet connection and understanding of how to mess around with technology has some sort of social media presence, Unfriended: Dark Web actually puts itself in a rare position, not just for the horror genre, but for all of cinema in that it should be easy for anyone to relate to the events transpiring. However, the script fumbles such an intriguing idea, throwing in aesthetically static and deranged individuals making threats from the opposite end of a webcam, the ability for the cult to inexplicably be able to reach and kill anyone within a moments notice regardless of if they are even in the same country, and a horrible twist that defies all logic.
Admittedly, for a brief bit during the beginning, there was a feeling that the film would turn out decent. Matias (Colin Woodell) and Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras) are currently navigating muddy waters in their relationship stemming from difficulty overcoming communication problems. Amaya uses ASL to speak, and Matias apparently isn’t dedicated enough to learning to understand her signing, although he is capable of coding a program that generates visual cues of him based on his voice dictations. Think of a text-to-speech program, only now it’s speech-to-ASL. Anyway, at one point he must convince Amaya to visit him otherwise the killer involved in all manners of seedy Internet underworld dealings will murder her; it’s a difficult task considering she’s basically ready to leave him. Furthermore, the thought that saving someone you legitimately love but may not be expressing it the right way is being based on your ability to convince them of your feelings under pressure is icky and tense in a quality way. The rest of the film, which actually involves police shooting a young male down based on a fake swatting tip, is repugnant.
The only positive thing there is to say about Unfriended: Dark Web is that it does stick to its gimmick, trying to present itself as something unique and creative. Despite this, the film is far too ugly to find any semblance of entertainment in. Cards Against Humanity makes everything a little bit better, but all it does here is make the stench smell a little less foul. Annoying characters, terrible acting, unbelievable twists, poor decision-making, and all around nastiness will make this go down as one of the worst films of the year.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com