Film Review: Unfriended: Dark WebA movie with nothing on its mind.
One of the more pleasant surprises of 2015 was Leo Gabriadze’s Unfriended, a low-budget horror thriller that takes place entirely on a computer screen. What sounded like a corny gimmick was handled with panache, resulting in a film that proved one of the year’s best micro-budget horror offerings. Look at the numbers—a reported million-dollar budget against a $64 million worldwide gross—and the presence of a sequel was inevitable.
Oh, if only Gabriadze has stayed on board for Unfriended: Dark Web. In the hands of writer-director Stephen Susco, the nascent franchise makes the shift from surprisingly smart and meaningful to cheap cruelty for its own sake.
In the first Unfriended, the villain was the ghost of a girl who—spoiler alert—was bullied by the film’s main characters to the point that she committed suicide. The anti-bullying message verged on cheesy at points, sure, but the movie at least had something to say.
By contrast, Dark Web gives us a group of boring young adults conducting a Skype game night who get drawn into the nefarious shenanigans of the “Dark Web”—a secretive corner of the World Wide Web where you can engage in illegal behavior without getting tracked—after one of their number (Matias, played by a bland Colin Woodell) steals a Dark Web-equipped laptop from the lost-and-found at his coffee shop. As in the first Unfriended, our hapless protagonists get picked off one by one, with all the activity taking place on a computer screen through various video chatting services. Unlike the original Unfriended, their deaths don’t mean much of anything—they find themselves the victims of this particular story more or less by chance—and they’re not particularly scary, outside of a few isolated scenes. You can look for deeper meaning to what’s going on, but there ain’t much there.
A horror movie (any movie) should be fun and/or it should have something to say. If it doesn’t tick either of those boxes, then what’s the damn point? You’re just watching people get offed for 88 minutes, and not particularly engaging people, besides. The exception is Betty Gabriel, who whether she’s in good movies—like Get Out—or not-so-good movies—like The Purge: Election Year—is able to elevate her characters past what they are on the page.
While the first Unfriended had a supernatural bent, Dark Web keeps things entirely reality-based—or at least seems to? There’s a lot of “Wait…how can the bad guys do this? Oh, it’s because they’re hackers” hand-waving going on to excuse completely unrealistic plot elements. Unfriended used its tech-based framing in an intelligent way, for example, by having the protagonists’ Skype chat glitch at the tensest possible moment. Dark Web just throws a whole bunch of glitches on the screen and hopes that counts as scary. It doesn’t.
Unfriended: Dark Web doesn’t deserve your faves or your retweets. Instead, it’s a regrettably stupid horror sequel that was better left in the drafts folder.
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