Cast: Colin Woodell, Stephanie Nogueras, Andrew Lees, Connor Del Rio, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Betty Gabriel, Savira Windyani
Director: Stephen Susco
Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
Levan Gabriadze’s 2015 horror film Unfriended was, in many ways, a harbinger of things to come; distilling our screen-based obsessions into the realm of horror not dissimilar from scrolling through Twitter on a daily basis. There were supernatural elements and ludicrous kills, but Unfriended remains one of the most effective horror movies of the past decade because it cleverly used the digital framing device as a catalyst for scares. Stephen Susco's Unfriended: Dark Web utilizes the same computer-screen gimmick via Skype group chat, but gives us new characters and a very different tonal perspective. Since the majority of us watch content on our laptops nowadays, Unfriended: Dark Web takes our familiarity with toggling windows, running programs, and text chat messaging and then uses it against us. The film is by turns ludicrous, creepy, sensationalized, ripped-from-the-headlines topical, silly, and stomach-churning. Even as it spirals into complete nonsense by the end (with the actual tech becoming increasingly dodgy), Unfriended: Dark Web emerges as a legitimately vicious piece of work executed with genuine flair.
The plot concerns Matias (Colin Woodell), a laptop thief working on an app based around changing typed text messages into videos of American Sign Language so that he can better communicate with his deaf girlfriend, Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras). During a group Skype call with his friends on "game night", Matias discovers a cache of horrific videos; most of them of the snuff film variety stored on the stolen laptop. The clips are shown briefly; with snippets of vile actions against young women depicted in grainy video quality. This makes the sense of mounting dread more palpable because Susco refuses to show us the totality of these horrifying sights, mirroring the way the characters also cannot take more than a few seconds at a time. As the shadowy owner of the computer begins making demands to have his property returned, a vast cyber network of wealthy sickos is unveiled operating through the dark web. Cryptocurrency, private chat rooms resembling an 8-bit Wolfenstein knock-off, and Greek underworld pseudonyms are trotted out; along with nonsensical plot twists and predictably dumb actions from the group of friends scrambling to make sense of the mayhem.
All of this, of course, is visually represented via moving windows and shifting screens, and while the technique isn't as novel as it was in the original Unfriended, Susco still manages a few nifty ways to engender claustrophobic tension out of the gimmick. It isn't a spoiler to say characters die in cruel and unusual ways here, but unlike the first film, Unfriended: Dark Web takes no pleasure in their demise. Beyond their overall bad decision-making and in one case, a rather aggravating political conspiracy dope, these are decent people trapped in a violently misanthropic situation. This is what ultimately makes Unfriended: Dark Web such an effectively nasty horror film; it gives us no way out, no means of escape, and no self-righteous pleasure in the sadistic deaths of millennials just hoping to hear that Macbook startup sound one last time.