×

Film Review: ‘Unfriended: Dark Web’

Don't know the definition of trephination? Fear not — or fear a lot — when this goofy browser-based horror sequel Googles it.

Director:
Stephen Susco
With:
Colin Woodell, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Connor del Rio, Stephanie Nogueras, Savira Windyani.

1 hour 28 minutes

In “Unfriended: Dark Web,” the horror begins with a MacBook’s startup bonggg. Without leaving the computer screen — and Stephen Susco’s film will never leave the computer screen — the audience quickly learns several key things: A boy named Matias (Colin Woodell) has a stolen laptop, a deaf girlfriend named Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras), and a gang of friends with nothing better to do than play Cards Against Humanity on Skype. There’s a lot you can learn from snooping someone’s keystrokes. A Spotify playlist named after Amaya speaks to Matias’ devotion, his email address mattyfastwheelz@gmail.com implies an ego that needs defragging.

Pity for Matias, no one wields spyware with more tyranny than the laptop’s original owner, a hacker in an underground cyber cabal who delights in snuff films and ancient Greek mythology. Their app looks like an 8-bit River Styx and if you don’t recognize their shared code name, Charon, you can watch Matias Google it. (Plus, Charon IV’s requested kill method, “trephination.” I’ll go ahead and tell you: It’s drilling holes in the victim’s head.)

Susco’s sequel to Levan Gabriadze’s unexpectedly clever 2015 haunted chat group hit ditches teen ghosts to traffic in hoodie-shrouded humans who are conceivably, if ludicrously, real. “Unfriended: Dark Web” toggles between those extremes, making audiences snicker knowingly at the agony of waiting for someone to reply to an urgent text, and groan when these wicked web wraiths crank up voice-disguising apps that make them sound like cheap horror movie devils. Which they are. The first “Unfriended” grossed $64 million on a million-dollar budget, and “Dark Web” shrewdly keeps costs so low that when Matias’ web-savvier friend Damon (Andrew Lees) helps uncover the laptop owner’s bank account, there’s enough Bitcoin in there to keep the sequels coming.

Matias’ buddies aren’t much smarter than the typical slasher chum, though the ability to look up literally anything in real time keeps the chills coming at a clip. Paranoiac AJ (Connor Del Rio) considers himself the tech genius of the group, thanks to his YouTube channel tutoring sheeple why they should smash their hard drives. That this loudmouth is clearly outmatched is one of the films wry jokes on progressives who fancy themselves dangerous rebels. (One of the words Matias guesses breaking into Charon’s laptop is “feelthebern.”)

Betty Gabriel, the brain-numbed maid in “Get Out,” here gets to show a range of furious emotions as the film’s conscience. Her fictional fiancée Serena (Rebecca Rittenhouse) fares worse thanks to a tacked-on subplot about her sick mom and a too-perfect makeup job that clashes with the film’s lo-fi aesthetic. She looks like she wandered in from a soft-focus soap opera. Otherwise, except for a few layered-on sound cues, Susco mostly commits to the premise, creating tension with just the flickering green “online” of someone connecting to Facebook Messenger on weak wifi, and a goofily accurate moment when a screaming Matias, his pale eyes luminous in the screen light, bleats about whether a code word should be typed in lower- or uppercase.

“Dark Web” skates by on saturated nastiness, one terrific kill, and the audience’s engagement in seeing if the filmmakers can pull off the stunt. Barely, but it’s fun to watch them try. After all, most of us might never sleep over in a haunted mansion or stumble across a Texas slaughterhouse. But we’ve all heard that bonggg. And we all should have our doubts about the personal weaknesses we’ve exposed through our social media accounts. As AJ notes, “Why do you think Facebook and Twitter are free?”

Film Review: 'Unfriended: Dark Web'

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Midnighters), March 9, 2018. 88 MIN.

Production: A Universal Pictures release and presentation of a Bazelevs Prods., Blumhouse Prods. production. Producers: Jason Blum, Timur Bekmambetov. Co-producers: Ryan Turek, Todd Breau. Executive producers: Adam Sidman, Couper Samuelson, Nelson Greaves.

Crew: Director, writer: Stephen Susco. Camera (color): Kevin Stewart. Editor: Andrew Wesman.

With: Colin Woodell, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Connor del Rio, Stephanie Nogueras, Savira Windyani.

More Film

  • Greek Director Probes Deeper Issues in

    Greek Director Probes Deeper Issues in Berlin Festival Film 'Sargasso Sea'

    After a sudden suicide turns a small eel-farming town upside down, an investigation unearths troubling secrets about the town’s past. Those discoveries will bring together two women trapped in solitary lives, offering each a chance to find salvation. “The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea” is the third feature by Greek director Syllas Tzoumerkas. Starring frequent [...]

  • Xavier Legrand Custody

    France's Cesar Awards Leads the Way for the Oscars

    Since 2011, France’s Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma has steadfastly held its annual awards ceremony the Friday before the Academy Awards. And if launching the Césars two days before the Oscars holds a real, practical benefit — allowing those walking both red carpets time to linger over their last flutes of Champagne before [...]

  • Australian Director Gameau Challenges Audiences to

    Australian Director Gameau Challenges Audiences to Improve the Planet

    Bright-eyed Australian director Damon Gameau set out in his previous movie, “That Sugar Film” to challenge everyday thoughtlessness about the dangers of our modern lifestyle — and became profoundly sick while doing so. In his new film “2040,” which plays in Berlin’s Generation Kplus section and which he styles as a “hybrid feature documentary,” Gameau [...]

  • WGA West Logo

    Writers Guild Sends Hollywood Agents Proposed Code of Conduct

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America have sent Hollywood talent agencies a proposed “Code of Conduct” with tough new restrictions on how they operate as agents for writer clients. The WGA made the disclosure Thursday night in an email to its 12,000 members, a day after announcing that it will hold a March 25 [...]

  • Best Score Nominee Alexandre Desplat Is

    Best Score Nominee Alexandre Desplat to Skip Oscar Ceremony

    Best score nominee Alexandre Desplat will be unable to attend Sunday’s Oscar ceremonies because of recent throat surgery, a rep for the composer confirms. The French native, already a two-time Oscar winner (for 2014’s “Grand Budapest Hotel” and 2017’s “The Shape of Water”), is nominated this year for his Japanese-flavored score for Wes Anderson’s “Isle [...]

  • Space Jam

    'Space Jam 2' Gets Summer 2021 Release Date

    Warner Bros. has set a July 16, 2021, date for its live-action/animated sports comedy “Space Jam 2,” starring LeBron James. Terence Nance, creator of the HBO show “Random Acts of Flyness,” is directing the sequel. His credits include “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty,” “Swimming in Your Skin Again,” and “Univitellin.” The movie marks James’ first [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content