2014’s Unfriended was a surprise success for Blumhouse and Universal. It made $64 million on a $1 million budget and was received well from critics. I enjoyed the film even more than the critics did. The innovation and creativity alone was monumentally impressive, but it also held together to tell an intriguing story. Having the whole film play out solely on computer screens was something I hadn’t seen and wouldn’t have believed that it could work. That risk paid off in a huge way because there was a whole other spin on the horror genre that was on display. Normally, if a film was as good as this one, the news of a sequel would be exciting, but when Unfriended: Dark Web was announced I was more disappointed than anything. My disappointment came from the thought that there was no new ground that this sequel could cover. Part of the “charm” in Unfriended was its uniqueness and originality. I thought that seeing this style of film would take all the charm from the first one and my thought was completely wrong.
Unfriended: Dark Web is an incredibly impressive film. Director Stephen Susco follows the same impressive format as its predecessor by keeping everything we see in the film on a computer screen. The novelty of this format worked again. Everything we see is done on computer screens, which is incredibly impressive and surprisingly familiar. It is so different than any other way to experience a film, but it works because we spend so much time looking at our own screens that this is familiar. All of the sites and sounds of Skype and a conversation via Skype are very familiar, and bring a level of comfort that also helps to make this film work. It’s actually a lot of fun to watch because of all that. Seeing all of those things captured in a film so perfectly is fun and interesting.
It does however present its own unique problems. Telling a complete story inside a computer screen is very difficult because it greatly limits what you can do. It’s also very hard to add good characters and setting to it. It becomes all the more difficult when there is a horror element because there is only so much you can actually do. Unfriended conquered these obstacles with teenagers (which feels like a more natural group to have Skype conversations) and a paranormal element. Dark Web was more ambitious because the cast was older (but not by much) and there was no paranormal element. Those decisions really paid off. The group dynamic in this film worked much better than I imagined it would and maybe even a bit better than the first film. Having the characters live in different cities and even countries makes sense and their Skype situation very believable. They were also meeting for a game night, which was established as something that they have done before, that also helps the believability. I believed this was a real group of friends that regularly does what they were doing. That isn’t something that is always acknowledged as important in horror films but it is incredibly important, especially in a film like this. It is hard to lay the groundwork of a story in this situation so the actors have to do that through performance and chemistry, and they successfully pull that off here.
Horror movies are all about creating situations that are horrifying, that is exactly what Dark Web does. There isn’t all that much that is “scary” but the situation itself would be a terrifying one to experience. What helps develop the horror is, ignorance. The “Dark Web” is scary because most of us don’t know a whole lot about it. That ignorance drives the fear because it makes it more plausible. Whether it actually is or isn’t is irrelevant because we just have to believe it is. Since I don’t know anything about the “Dark Web” it becomes a lot easier to believe what I am seeing. Another angle that helped develop the fear is the sense of not being in control over the situation. If you pull back the layers on most horror films, the truly terrifying ones are the ones in which you have no real control over the outcome. This worked very well in Unfriended because of its paranormal element. It is also rendered very effectively with Dark Web with a seemingly omnipresent group of strangers. They could be anywhere and their understanding of the Internet allows them to seemingly do anything. The lack of control is expressed through the fact that our characters don’t have the knowledge of the Internet that the killers do. Watching the computer get hacked and things manipulated, creates a very real helplessness that is relatable to anyone who has ever needed help with technology. I felt helpless watching the events of this film take place and that made this very uncomfortable and terrifying to watch.
Unfriended: Dark Web is a very good horror film. There are minor flaws and a few leaps in logic that have to be made but if you buy into the premise the experience will be well worth it. There are solid performances all throughout the film, especially by the lead, Colin Woodell (Matias). He really captures the fear that one would experience if they were in his position. The performances are all the more impressive when you think how this has to be filmed. It runs counter to a lot of what actors normally do and it has to be incredibly important to give a compelling performance through a computer screen. Director Stephen Susco was also incredibly impressive in every way. He was able to help pull out those performance and delivered a solid script. Most importantly, he was able to create a thrilling and scary film all inside of a computer screen. Dark Web is worth watching simply because of its format but it’s also an innovative and creative horror film that you won’t regret seeing.
4 out of 5 stars
Director: Stephen Susco Writer: Stephen Susco Starring: Collin Woodell, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Betty Gabriel, Chelsea Alden, Stephanie Nogueras & Andrew Lees Release Date: July 20th Rated: R
Runtime: 1 hour and 28 minutes
Image Credit: Imdb