Review – Internet horror ‘Unfriended: Dark Web’ makes social media scary again

Poster for 2018 horror movie Unfriended: Dark Web

Genre: Horror
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 10th August 2018
Runtime: 93 minutes
Director: Stephen Susco
Writer: Stephen Susco
Starring: Colin Woodell, Stephanie Nogueras, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Connor Del Rio, Savira Windyani
Synopsis: A group of teenagers become trapped in the deadly machinations of a shady online group, dedicated to the kidnap and murder of young women.

 

 

Most movies about the internet – here’s looking at you, Slender Man – can be summed up with the simple use of that ubiquitous 30 Rock GIF in which Steve Buscemi, with a baseball cap on his head and a skateboard on his shoulder, walks in with the words “how do you do, fellow kids?” The 2015 Blumhouse horror Unfriended was something considerably different and far more entertaining, conveying a world very familiar to digital native youngsters, in which the entire narrative unfolds on the protagonist’s computer screen as they chat to friends and flit between windows. It’s a compelling horror movie and a rare example of a film that understands the internet, so it’s no surprise that Blumhouse has reached for a sequel.

Unfriended: Dark Web takes the supernatural threat of the first film and swaps it for something much more real and much more insidious. The action takes place on a new laptop acquired by Matias (Colin Woodell), who is developing an app that turns his speech into sign language so that he can communicate more easily with his deaf girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras). He begins to receive social media messages meant for the previous owner, hinting at a seriously grim business that the owner, known only as ‘Norah C. IV’, seemed to be running. As he chats to his friends on video chat for their weekly game night, he is pulled into a world of crime on the dark web, where all manner of people can hide from view.

That premise allows Unfriended: Dark Web to get past the silly supernatural excesses that derailed the third act of its predecessor, leading to a sequel that is scarier and superior. Woodell’s central performance is surprisingly packed with depth as he falls further and further into the black hole of the internet’s dark side, especially as his girlfriend is threatened and his friends begin to disappear in a series of sequences that are every bit as grotesquely inventive as the gruesome deaths in the first movie. Woodell’s terrified face, visible in almost every shot, elevates this film to the next level.

It’s refreshing that this movie also seems to understand the world in which it exists. Writer-director Stephen Susco is able to explain concepts like the dark web and Bitcoin with relative ease, while also putting the audience firmly at ease in its world of clicking and multiple chat windows, where the little green circle indicating whether a user is online becomes a major plot point. Once he has the audience familiar with his world, he sets about subverting it as the dark web forces begin to control the actions of Matias and his friends through their computer screens.

The supernatural power of the original Unfriended is notable by its absence in this new movie, but it’s replaced with a power that seems almost supernatural. These characters are not at home in the dark web, so they are easy to manipulate and control by those with more technical skill and familiarity with the online underworld. It is this knowledge gap that Susco’s story continuously manipulates, allowing for ample scares and plot revelations that constantly keep the audience guessing.

Speaking of keeping the audience guessing, Unfriended: Dark Web has been screened with two different endings, randomly dotted throughout all of the screenings. For what it’s worth, I think I saw the better ending, having read up on the other but, either way, this is a bleak and punishing movie that epitomises a fact about horror that seems to elude most people. Horror is often considered to be a sadistic drama, but it’s actually deeply masochistic. Unfriended: Dark Web exists in a world we know and deals with threats we may ourselves face, which makes it as relatable as it is terrifying.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

Blumhouse has hit another shocking high note with Unfriended: Dark Web, which is a movie packed with inventive horror moments and characters drawn with a surprising amount of detail given the limited room for character in the premise.

Stephen Susco’s movie shows clear familiarity and understanding of the internet’s dark side, allowing for a film that is sure-footed and scary, while firmly rooted in a reality that is terrifyingly plausible to anyone who has ever delved into what the internet has to offer.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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