Thursday, October 18, 2018

Movie Review: Unfriended: Dark Web

Unfriended: Dark Web ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Stephen Susco.
Written by: Stephen Susco.
Starring: Colin Woodell (Matias), Stephanie Nogueras (Amaya), Betty Gabriel (Nari), Rebecca Rittenhouse (Serena), Andrew Lees (Damon), Connor Del Rio (AJ), Savira Windyani (Lexx), Douglas Tait (Charon IV), Bryan Adrian (Charon IV), Chelsea Alden (Kelly), Alexa Mansour (Erica Dunne).
I liked the 2014 horror film Unfriended when I saw it in theaters back then – and liked it even more earlier this year when I revisited it. Telling the entire movie on a computer screen was an ingenious way to reframe the horror movie – in that case, of the dead teenager variety, as a group of friends gather on Skype, and get picked off one by one by a malevolent force that makes them play a series of games. The sequel, Unfriended: Dark Web, takes the same basic concept and, to be fair, does try and do something slightly different. There was a supernatural element to the first film, that is absent here – the problem is, what they replace it with is so much more unbelievable then the idea of a dead girl using Facebook. The film tries to do what many sequels do – follow the same formula, but raises the stakes a little – and in this case, it doesn’t really work.
A whole new group of people on Skype this time – instead of a group of amoral teenagers, we know have a group of slightly more sympathetic 20-sometimes. The main character is Matias (Colin Woodell), who we learn took a laptop in found in a Cyber Café’s lost and found. He says it’s been sitting there for weeks, so he assumed no one was coming back for it. He logs on to the new laptop, first chats with his deaf girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras) – and then logging on with his friends for a game night. But his computer is glitch – the hard drive seems full – and there are all these video files on there taking up all the memory. It also keeps signing him into a weird Facebook account for Norah C IV, who keeps getting a lot of message that become increasingly weird. Things, will, of course spin out of control – and like the teenagers last time, the people online with Matias are doomed. Unlike those teenagers though, the people here aren’t horribly self-involved assholes (not completely) – but just people in the wrong chatroom at the wrong time.
That’s probably the first major way the film goes wrong. The original film centered on the film’s most sympathetic character’s computer – only gradually (Spoiler for a four-year-old movie I Guess) to reveal that she is perhaps the worst of the bunch of assholes online that night. Here, they go the opposite route – Matias is really the only one who does anything wrong in the film, and everyone pays for it. Perhaps the plan here was to do the opposite of the last film – instead of reveling in the death of horrible people, we’d actively root for this friend group instead – the problem is that everyone else in the group who isn’t Matias is a paper thin character defined by only one characteristic (the lesbian couple has to share one – that they’re lesbians). Say what you want about those teenagers in the last film, they were all uniquely horrible in their own way. Here, everyone is just a lamb for the slaughter.
That isn’t that out of the ordinary for a horror movie though – and perhaps not even a fatal flaw. The real problem is the villain(s) of the movie. You can probably tell by the title that the characters here stumble their way into the Dark Web – the internet most of us never see, where a whole bunch of illegal stuff happens. They people they come in contact with are all seeing and all powerful hackers, who are pretty much do anything on a computer, and also, are, apparently skilled trained assassins as well. Even when they appear on camera, they do so as glitches – shaky, fuzzy shapes coming in and out of the frame. It’s far more distracting that the unseen entity of the last film.
The idea of doing a movie all on a computer screen is a difficult one to pull off. Unfriended wasn’t the first to do it, and with this year’s Searching, I don’t think it’s the best anymore either (although, to be fair to Unfriended, I think Searching cheats a little bit). With Unfriended: Dark Web, the filmmakers tried to recreate what work last time, but not wholly repeat it. The result can be interesting at times, but overall doesn’t really work – and certainly isn’t as satisfying or scary as the original.

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