Back in 2014, when the computer-based “Unfriended” was released, the kind of online menace we could imagine was mostly bullying — an anonymous mob unleashed online. That all seems so quaint these days.
Now, as the sequel is released, the online threats to the very fabric of our existence are so much more real, and so much more human. Foreign hackers are being indicted for meddling in United States elections, bitcoin is everyone’s lips (even if no one really understands it), and “Unfriended: Dark Web” is poised to capitalize on the zeitgeist.
The smartly constructed sequel is written and directed by Stephen Susco, a seasoned horror screenwriter making his directorial debut. He uses the same device as the first film, with the action taking place entirely on a computer screen populated by a Skype session among a friend group of young adults who live their lives online.
It’s game night for the college pals who convene on Skype to play Cards Against Humanity. Our avatar, the person whose screen experience we’re following, is Matias (Colin Woodell). He has just had a spat with his girlfriend via Facebook chat over a program he’s attempting to develop to ease their communication (she’s deaf, and he’s terrible at sign language). But he has high hopes for his program with a new-to-him laptop, as soon as he can sign the old user out.
The prior owner of the laptop has left a pesky digital residue. Random, persistent Facebook messages pop up with promises of large amounts of money for a mysterious custom job. Matias is drawn into the dark web, and he takes his friends with him on the journey. On the laptop they find a deep network of individuals willing to trade huge sums of money for hideously cruel and depraved acts. And now that Matias has the laptop and they’ve discovered the group, the targets are on their backs.
The storytelling craft of “Unfriended: Dark Web” is fascinating to watch as it unspools on Facebook, Skype, FaceTime and other modes of digital communication. But as a horror film, it’s grim. There’s no real excitement or cat-and-mouse games to play here. Once the group has been identified, it’s just a matter of waiting to see how gruesomely the dark webbers will weaponize the internet against the group of innocent kids. Frankly, it’s just no fun.
Perhaps it’s just too real. We’re all too aware of the nefarious and evil forces working to disrupt our lives, and we’ve seen the repercussions of their actions play out on the news daily. While “Unfriended: Dark Web” is a clever concept of cinematic design and storytelling, it proves to be only a deeply chilling cautionary tale.
‘Unfriended: Dark Web’
Rated R for some disturbing violence, language and sexual references.