James Cole Clay // Film Critic
UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB
Blumhouse has been known for low-budget, yet effective horror since they broke out in 2009 with the monster hit PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. The production company, led by Jason Blum, has made critically praised films (some better than others) time-and-time again, culminating with 2017’s horror masterpiece GET OUT. When the 2015 found-footage film UNFRIENDED was released, it was destined to get countless groans from critics across the globe. The movie takes place all within a laptop (the polar opposite of cinematic), yet it found an unexpected voice to be a cautionary tale about cyberbullying with supernatural elements. Overall, it was pretty forgettable, but it made for a decent 90-minute sit.
Its sequel, UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB, has only one connection to the original: its gimmick of a group of friends uncovering horror through a series of Skype calls, all of which take place in real time. Stephen Susco, the screenwriter of THE GRUDGE and THE GRUDGE 2, makes his directorial debut with a paper-thin movie that’s mean spirited, awful and uses rape culture to cheaply get thrills. There’s a commentary to be had here, and there’s no discourse; only a shallow, empty piece of filmmaking used as a voyeuristic experience that amounts to nothing.
This time around, we meet computer programmer Matias (Colin Woodell), who is preparing an app so he can be better at communicating with his hearing impaired girlfriend, Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras). Their relationship is on the skids as they are having trouble learning how to understand each other’s emotions, because Matias is dragging his feet while studying. American Sign Language. Through all the Skype calls and jittery Facebook messages that go by in the blink of an eye, we learn that Matias has procured (or has stolen, rather) a lap top from a cyber cafe. After a fight between Matias and Amaya, he jumps into a virtual game of Cards Against Humanity with a group of friends — the goofball (Connor Del Rio), the dishy British dude (Andrew Lees), the Uber cool DJ (Savira Windyani) and lesbian couple (Betty Gabriel and Rebecca Rittenhouse). After Matias’ computer starts glitching and weird messages start popping up, he lets the group in on his secret, which unravels something sinister that departs from the paranormal elements of the original.
*SPOILERS* for UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB coming up
It turns out Matias’ laptop belongs to a guy who’s involved with a network that steals, murders and tortures young women all for the sake of viewership. We see young girls trapped in barrels, have chemicals poured on them and not to mention, a hooded man climbing into the window of a victim, watching her as she sleeps. This is truly disturbing and yes, this is a horror film, but Susco has no idea what type of imagery this provokes from his audience. It’s certainly not any form of escapism; it’s just plain stupid. While the idea of the dark web could certainly be a gratifying topic to mine horror from, you’d be better off checking out the documentary DEEP WEB instead. There isn’t any actual rape in the DARK WEB, but there’s just a gross entitlement that this film has attached to its themes, and says nothing about its consequences.
There’s an authenticity to what’s happening to Matias and his friends on screen, and maybe there’s the occasional smile amidst this depraved and mostly tacky attempt at thrills. UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB is a movie that lacks any sort of innovation. Its laziness is only topped by its sadistic (and terribly problematic) approach to putting its victims in peril for the sake of its viewers. While the film goes for a meta textual final shot, it falls down flat on its face never to be heard from again. This cynical piece of filmmaking belongs in the trash bin of your desktop.
- This is Betty Gabriel’s third film with Blumhouse. She was the maid in GET OUT and the nosey detective in UPGRADE. She has such a promising career, and her presence is felt here, but only for a moment.
- While the movie is only 88 minutes, you feel like you’ve been ditched at a party that last’s until 3 a.m., where you don’t know anyone.
- There has been a lot of American Sign Language in horror films lately; namely A QUIET PLACE, which uses its conceit perfectly.
- The character of Amaya in the film is literally not given a voice, or a means to communicate without coming across as whiney or helpless. That’s just poor writing.
- Worst theatrical experience of 2018 thus far.
- Next month a movie called SEARCHING comes out. It stars John Cho as a father who is looking for his missing daughter. It also utilizes the computer screen frame (for the most part), and it looks fantastic.