Unfriended: Dark Web
Ah, game night. A magical time when friends get together to create a shared experience. With the advent of technology, getting together online to play what used to be a local experience is becoming more of the norm. I do it, with my friends across the country. In Unfriended: Dark Web, a group of friends get together, but the experience is far different than anything I could imagine.
Matias (Colin Woodell) found a computer in a lost and found, where it had been sitting for weeks. He’s been trying to create an app that would help enable him to communicate better with his deaf girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras), but his old computer was slow and didn’t work very well. This new Apple computer is fast and seems to work pretty well. As he tries to communicate with Amaya and show her the app, he keeps getting bombarded with Facebook messages because the computer is still logged into the owner’s account. Meanwhile, it’s game night for Matias and his friends and he is trying to Skype with them.
But the app keeps crashing. Turns out, most of the hard drive is being used by a hidden folder. And in the hidden folder are disturbing videos seemingly showing a bunch of women getting killed in grotesque ways. Then, the owner of the laptop makes himself known to Mathias and has set out his own little game to get the computer back. If Mathias doesn’t give him back his computer, he’s going to kill Amaya. And so Mathias is forced to try to outsmart the hacker in order to save himself, his girlfriend and his friends.
When the original Unfriended came out, it took what had become a pretty rote filmmaking technique (found footage) and did something unique and timely with it by putting the entirety of it on one computer screen. Unfriended hit a nerve with the way it was constructed. It felt like interactive fiction, to some degree, as if we're the unwittingly participants in these characters lives. Since then, this type of storytelling has been used in other medias. Sara Is Missing and the Mr. Robot mobile games, for example, create a story centered around the idea that you found a phone and get embroiled in a mystery. Wrong place, wrong time. Now lives are in your hands. Dark Web takes this and runs with it.
Much like the original, the entirety of the story takes place on a single screen, as friends and unknown avatars pop in and out over Skype or Facebook or more darker applications. But while I appreciate the concept of a ghost in the machine the first movie relied on, it felt more like a proof of concept than a fully fledged story. Dark Web, then, works much better by focusing on more natural horror instead of an upset ghost.
The friends at the heart of the story are incredibly affable and have such chemistry together. This is a huge change from the first movie, where I didn’t really care about the characters, particularly as you start to understand why they were targeted. These people feel like real friends with history and they feel like actual people, as opposed to the first’s more general archetypes. And the fact that the movie spends a good chunk of time building the relationships and personal conflicts makes what happens all the more intense and tragic. Colin Woodell (aside from being a cutie), in particular, does an amazing job of trying to keep everything from going to shit. His progress from a boy in love to someone doing everything in his power to save his girlfriend is depressingly real.
Since this is a found footage type film, you pretty much know how things will progress and while Dark Web doesn't mess with the structure much, what it does, it does with panache. This is truly the darkest and most upsetting thing I've seen Blumhouse produce. Some of the video moments in Sinister come close or exceed it, but Dark Web is laser-focused on showing you terrifying things lurking just outside of Facebook. And it is mean-spirited and gleeful in the traumas inflicted on the characters and the viewer. There's an image toward the end that made my stomach flip on each viewing.
Unfriended: Dark Web is probably one of the biggest surprises for me, this year. I didn’t have much in the way of expectations when I sat down to watch it, but from the characters to the horror, it captivated me and scared the shit out of me.