We live in an age where most of our daily lives is tied up in technology and especially computers. Work, play, communication, everything is online, including this article unless you yourself are some sort of master hacker and got it off my computer. But there is something that most of you probably don’t encounter in your everyday life: the dark web. If you are unfamiliar with the concept the dark web is a layer of the internet that is not accessible via conventional search engines. This is where you will find a wealth of shady information and business; drugs and weapons dealing, government documents, cannibalism, snuff movies, human trafficking, and every unpleasant deed that humankind is capable of, all lurking beneath the surface as everyone else goes about their innocent daily online lives unaware, and it is this world that the characters of Unfriended: Dark Web encounter to devastating effects.
Matias logs on to a Skype call with his friends for their regular game night with his new laptop but discovers on the computer a cache of some very disturbing videos. Whilst deciding what to do, the previous owner of the laptop gets in contact and the group must stay logged on or suffer the deadly consequences.
Unfriended: Dark Web takes a drastic turn from its predecessor, 2014’s Unfriended, in that we are no longer dealing in the realm of the supernatural, and honestly the movie is better off for it. Whilst the first film had a good idea of examining the effects of online bullying with a classic vengeful spirit ghost story told in an interesting format, changing up the tried and true found footage formula for something that can best be described as point of view as we see everything through the main character’s laptop screen, the actual writing was very weak with a cast of the most obnoxious teenagers possible. By basing the story this time around, as ludicrous as it gets in a few places, on something much more real it brings it closer to home and sets you up the next time you log on to give a wary glance at your webcam. Also in terms of characters here we have some that are at least recognisable as normal people, although the filmmakers couldn’t resist putting in one very annoying character that all groups of people in horror movies seem to have because that is apparently mandated by law. But the performances are certainly a lot better than the first one, helped in no small part by Get Out’s Betty Gabriel as Matias’ friend Nari. These are characters that we actually can care about and fear for when things start going wrong, and oh boy do they. There are a lot of twists and turns to be had here with a few real heart pounding moments of tension as well, helped hugely by the sheer reality of them using their computers in ways that are instantly recognisable with Facebook and Skype playing key roles in the story. Underlying all of this is that fear that what we put online can be used against us and to hurt us by people with unwholesome intentions. Said unwholesome individuals in the film make their presence known with use of shadowy figures that cause glitchy visuals. I initially wanted to call this out as something annoying that just serves to be a convenient visual marker, but research shows that anti-surveillance clothing is genuinely a thing so they get a pass on that one.
On a less horrifying side of things there is an aspect of the movie very focussed on communication. We have the friends, one of whom is in a different country from the rest, socialising through the computer, and the reason for Matias gaining the laptop in the first place was so that he could work on a program incorporating sign language to communicate better with his deaf girlfriend Amaya. This is something she then calls him out on for not bothering to learn sign language for himself. It’s an interesting element and adds a bit more flavour to the film separate from the central drama.
It’s by no means a perfect film of course and won’t appeal to everyone. If you can’t get on board with the format of looking through a computer screen then the movie simply isn’t going to work for you and you will quickly tire of watching someone click back and forth. Also the movie is not immune to the epidemic of stupid decisions because the plot demands it that fuels horror movies. There are a couple of things in particular that if the characters, and especially Matias, had done differently then a lot of worse things could have been avoided, and speaking of doing things a certain way there is also the factor of the bad guys having a plan so convoluted that everything must work out so exactly, and it does. It feels cheap and means that the movie’s plot unravels the more you think about it.
There are two ending to the movie being shown theatrically, but the ultimate ending is the same and thankfully does not give in to the typical mainstream horror movie trend of ending on a jumpscare, something its predecessor did to its detriment. Instead we are left with a sense of just how powerless the characters we’ve been following have been throughout along with an uncomfortable feeling of voyeurism and compliancy, as if simply by watching the film we the viewers are involved in the suffering of these characters.
Unfriended: Dark Web is an interesting and different little thriller that taps into some very real anxieties about living online.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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