Hot Take: It’s stunt filmmaking as it blends technology and film… but other films have failed miserably trying to do this and Unfriended: Dark Web succeeds where others have failed. I surely wasn’t expecting that to happen here.
Low expectations can sometimes save a film. Maybe that’s what is going on here but Unfriended: Dark Web outperformed my expectations. The sequel to Blumhouse Tilt’s low budget 2015 film that grossed $32.5 million in the U.S. and another $31.6 overseas had a similar $1 million budget to the original. So far, though, the box office hasn’t responded the same as the sequel opened at $3.6 million (on roughly 1,200 less theaters) versus the original’s monster $15.8 million. The sequel also works as a stand-alone as the stories are only linked through the fact that it’s a found footage film with a social media link. Otherwise, Unfriended: Dark Web could have been its own film and didn’t really need to be a sequel. For this reviewer, Unfriended: Dark Web worked well especially when compared to other standard horror fare. There’s already been a handful of bad horror flicks but this one stands a cut above the dreck that’s hit theaters (we’re looking at you, Truth or Dare!) and provides a brisk, unique horror offering that is compelling enough to keep the viewer engaged from beginning to end.
Unfriended: Dark Web does suffer from the same ailments other horror films do, though. The characters are mostly stupid and it typically ends well because they make horrible decisions. While a few of those decisions are morally horrible, most of them in Unfriended: Dark Web are stupidly horrible. It’s what is expected from characters in these types of films and in horror film terms, Unfriended: Dark Web could have been worse along those lines.
The film’s premise is based around a stolen laptop. Matias (Colin Woodell) snatched the laptop from work to help complete his app so he can communicate with his deaf girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras). As he argues with her, it’s also game night with friends and the plan is to play online through Skype. There’s tech wiz Damon (Andrew Leeds), conspiracy theorist AJ (Connor Del Rio), lesbian couple Serena (Rebecca Rittenhouse) and Nari (Betty Gabriel) and music DJ Lexx (Savira Windyani). Of course, the game is Cards Against Humanity because this has to be as contemporary as possible which will likely contribute to this film aging poorly. While Matias argues with Amaya and plays with his friends, he notices messages to another Facebook account embedded on his new computer. Eventually, he learns that the laptop’s previous owner is trying to talk with him. Also, the laptop keeps shutting down and rebooting from time to time causing Matias to explore the computer’s hard drive discovering some disturbing videos. All shown through the lens of computer videos complete with the overlay of the desktop background whenever necessary to give it authenticity.
Unfriended: Dark Web is by no means great. It is a novel approach, though. The entanglement of social media apps with the film’s presentation adds a unique element to it all that even when the film’s premise goes off the rails (and trust me, it does go off the rails), it’s easy to play along. The neoteric approach doesn’t overwhelm the film (we’re looking at you, Unsane!) and the plot doesn’t take a backseat to the novelty. Again, it won’t age well with talk of things like crypto-currency and even the film being centered around Facebook and Skype might already be slightly over the hill. It also won’t survive a more cerebral discussion afterwards as there are some major plot points that are impossible to comprehend. The convenience of it all is just too ridiculous and lacks any real authenticity.
Warts and all, Unfriended: Dark Web is still an entertaining horror flick. Clocking in at a brisk 88 minutes, the stand-alone sequel doesn’t overstay its welcome. This is likely due to the novelty of its aesthetics as even in its dumbest moments, the film’s seamless integration of the technology of today’s social media and other ways we capture video through security cameras or phones keeps your attention off of how dumb the film can be. It’s only in afterthought does the film truly crumble but that shouldn’t be held against the film in the moment as it delivers an appealing watch from end to end.
You need one more reason to put tape over your computer’s camera.
You read through this and the thing that stuck out to you was how implausible it is that a conspiracy theorist would allow himself to be broadcast over the web on Skype because we all know how easy it would be to hack something like that.