OTL RELEASING (2018)
Director: Stephen Susco
Starring: Colin Woodell, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Betty Gabriel, Andrew Lees, Connor Del Rio, Stephanie Nogueras, Savira Windyani
Whoever said the internet was a fun, safe place?
After the tepid reaction to 2014’s Unfriended, the fact that Unfriended: Dark Web exists is a fairly big feat. With the backing of Jason Blum and Blumhouse, there’s always a chance of success, or at the very least, getting some exposure and the reins have been handed to Stephen Susco to get the IP back on track.
When Matias (Woodell) finds a laptop without an owner (i.e. he stole it), all seems well as he develops software and chats with friends and his deaf girlfriend Amaya (Nogueras) via Skype, Facebook and all these old-new-fangled social media sites. When he starts receiving strange messages from random people, his interest is piqued. That is until the owner of the laptop gets in contact and reveals he is part of a super cyber hacking group – a group who are quite handy at killing – and he wants his laptop back. Holding Amaya as an unwitting hostage, the cat-and-mouse game turns deadly as the cyber cult flex their sadistic muscles (and Bitcoin).
The internet can be a nasty place sometimes (try putting out movie reviews into the world…). It can be faceless, soulless, anonymous and heartless and that’s exactly what Unfriended: Dark Web zeroes in on. Whilst not entirely practical or grounded in fierce realism, it’s not entirely out of the realms of belief that things like this could feasibly occur in the real world in one way or another. That’s also what takes away some of the escapism that movies can generally provide – the idea of suspending belief for a few hours can be a great distraction, however, Dark Web felt pretty real at times, which is what Stephen Susco clearly strived for.
The characters are (mainly) confined to one room each due to them appearing on a group Skype call, so their interactions are on screen rather than literally on scene. As a bunch of friends I bought their relationships and for the majority of the movie, the performances are solid enough for the material.
Whereas the first Unfriended dealt with vengeful ghouls, the threat here is very much of this world. Retaining elements of that films visual style, Dark Web is presented via those Skype calls, Facebook, video files and various web pages and once you get used to this way of storytelling, it can be quite effective. If you can’t get used to it, you’ll find this problematic. The mystery element of Dark Web, mainly the first act is strong – it works by tapping into the human trait of intrigue in the unknown and things that we probably shouldn’t watch. Unravelling the web of where the laptop came from, who it belonged to, what they used it for, random messages appearing regarding previous events and bitcoin transactions – an intriguing tapestry is sewn but the movies final act does a good job in besmirching the initial good work. The rushed, generic ending was wholly unsatisfying for a movie that had been chugging along quite nicely beforehand. As a horror movie, the question is – is this scary? Yes and no. The scares and mainly easy to spot, however, (again) it’s the realism that’s unsettling – there’s not a lot of joy throughout this movie, which doesn’t help the feeling.
As far as sequels go, this is certainly better than the first offering (though Unfriended was awful) and though the distorted realism can be unnerving, the final act is enough to derail the initial good work Dark Web set up.
September 26th 2018