Always, always use dial-up. Mathias (Colin Woodell) works at the local internet cafe, mainly because his computer is a slow piece of plastic on which he cannot get any work done on. One day, he comes across a posting on Craigslist for a dirt cheap and high-speed laptop and pounces on it. This is great, for Mathias is an app developer who’s looking to bridge the gap communications-wise with his girlfriend who is deaf in Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras).
Outside of his endeavors, he holds frequent game nights with his friends of AJ (Connor Del Rio), Serena (Rebecca Rittenhouse), Nari (Betty Gabriel), Damon (Andrew Lees), and DJ Lexx (Savira Windyani). Quickly, Facebook messages appear asking for information that Mathias is unaware of. As he begins to prod around the newly purchased laptop, it becomes evident that what exists on the hard drive are things that can only be described as twisted. The very nature of Mathias being in possession of this computer puts he and all of those around him in extreme danger.
If there’s one thing the Unfriended series has gotten right over two films, it is that they’re topical. Beyond the gimmick of having the story play out through Skype, the 2015 (or 2014) feature hit hard on the heavy consequences of bullying with a so-so supernatural element. Unfriended: Dark Web dives straight into the World Wide Web pool of the deeper levels and layers of anonymity in the 21st century. An authentic portrayal of hacking and unsearchable web programs this doesn’t seem to be, but Dark Web is nonetheless lean, mean, and kind of uncomfortable.
A writer of mediocre at best and poor at worst horror scripts such as The Grudge movies and Texas Chainsaw 3D, Steven Susco gets his opportunity to direct something he’s written for the first time here. Three years later, the desktop setting/aesthetic is still pretty novel, but there is a cap on what really can be done, and it is increasingly likely that each resulting movie will continue to look the same as what came before it. As was the case before, a score is nonexistent, and any scare cues are those featuring distorted glitches and/or bad resolution. Like Unfriended, this is probably a better and immersive viewing experience on an actual computer screen than a silver one.
As for Susco’s script, it lacks a little in clarity and can get slightly lost when it attempts to summarize its version of the dark web through exposition. However, it doesn’t overstay its welcome at a tidy 88 minutes. And despite probable farfetched depicted exaggerations of its subject matter (Mr. Robot, this is not), it does get a viewer to thinking about the real-life dark web institution…which is frightening in ways Zuckerberg’s monolith creation isn’t. There are heavy elements of the old Nic Cage 1999 thriller of 8MM and some feelings of Scott Derrickson’s first half of Sinister, two movies that dealt with snuff and voyeurism. The main takeaways? Anonymity isn’t real, which is hardly a revelation. But the fact that a tool such as the hidden Internet is widely available and usable from anyone who wishes to do so for mostly illicit purposes is unnerving. Those who choose to use could be some thirteen year-old kid in China…or your next-door neighbor looking to get off on some disturbing fetishes. By that extension, is this world all that anonymous?
Unfriended: Dark Web‘s characters aren’t the epitome of depth, though they are written more like actual people with real-world troubles compared to high schoolers with myopic and trivial concerns. Whether it’s AJ’s conspiracy paranoia, Mathias’ girlfriend difficulties, Nari and Serena’s complicated relationship, or just Damon’s legitimate easygoing persona, they are easier to get behind. The acting as a whole is a bigger strength (almost by default with the appearance of Gabriel), selling hysteria effectively.
Another movie of 2018 that paints a dark and nihilistic point of view, Unfriended: Dark Web works better within its technology presentation; less of a gimmick and more of a fitting way to tell its story. Just continue to keep that piece of tape over your computer camera.
Photo credits go to traileraddict.com, heavy.com, and hollywoodreporter.com.
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