Movie Reviews: Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

I don’t need to tell you about how derided found footage is or how it is underrated and can be quite effective.  I’ve done that quite enough over the years and besides, since the found footage boom has passed (Wikipedia counts three last year and now in July this is our first one of this year), I think the over exposure of the technique has already started to wear off.  In the midst of that boom, there was one surprise title that stood out.  Not necessarily for being good, it was a fine movie, more because it had all the potential to be absolutely terrible and yet it turned out pretty well.

Unfriended started with a terrible name that seemingly cast it as a modern version of such films as FeardotCom and Cry_Wolf and with a tech heavy gimmick.  Hollywood already has issues with depicting technology and teens, but the curious decision to sell a movie the was set entirely on a laptop screen on the big screen (where I saw it) was an odd one.  Yet it worked.  The acting was often over the top with that blender scene especially awful, but the gimmick itself, the way it darted between the different apps and used the group video chatting to bring other characters in was perfectly handled.  They pulled a Paranormal Activity and stumbled hard on the ending, but it was about as solid as I could have hoped for out of the movie.  Unfriended: Dark Web is BH Tilt’s (for when Blumhouse wants to make even cheaper films than they normally do like the original and Upgrade) attempt to add another franchise to the Blumhouse name.  Gone though are original writer Nelson Greaves and director Leo Gabriadze with writer/director Stephen Susco (writer of the US The Grudge films and Texas Chainsaw 3D) in their place.  Also gone is the original cast and any connection to the original film besides the title (which is no longer even relevant) and basic idea which is for the best.

A man comes into possession of a laptop, one he claims that he purchased on Craigslist, for the purposes of working on an app to communicate with his deaf girlfriend.  The entire film takes place in real time as depicted by what is shown on that laptop’s screen and the film must therefore get creative to bring in others and show other scenes.  It’s not nearly as creative this time out, there seems to be fewer apps shown (which is probably more realistic to be honest but less fun) and there’s more of an emphasis on full screen video.  The video comes in the form of Facebook video chats with his girlfriend, Skype group chats with his friends who are having a game night, a collection of them found on the laptop, and from footage that have been taken elsewhere.

The man starts to receive messages intended for the previous owner and he finds hidden files, files eventually revealed to be something much darker than he bargained for (along with a connection to something called The River which looks like it is straight out of Minecraft).  Contacted by someone claiming to be the owner, he’s forced to stay on the line and keep them on it too or bad things will happen.  The plot is convoluted and complete nonsense, the hacker stuff completely laughable.  It’s a slow build to get there to which means that there is plenty of time for it to really sink in.  That slow build does serve to piece together a more interesting crop of characters this time around though, with a more talented cast (including Get Out‘s Betty Gabriel) with a few genuinely affecting scenes.  They are the saving grace for the film that keeps things moving and engaging and for the most part, you want them to make it through this.  It certainly isn’t the kills, which are mostly uninspired, or even the tension which takes a long time before it starts kicking in.  There are a couple effective moments of tensions, but the film is decidedly back-loaded in that regard and they are brief.

While the sequel is just as good as its predecessor, instead of that film where I left thinking that was about as good as I could hope for, I think that there was plenty left on the table.  Even with a subject matter as primed for out of touch fear mongering, which the movie both engages in and parodies with a conspiracy theorist supporting character, as the “dark web”, the film had the set up down pat for and all the legwork down for something better, but they didn’t seem quite sure where to go from there with it.  It’s still a fine, worthwhile experience for horror fans though.