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July 23, 2018

Unfriended: Dark Web

by Franz Patrick


Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)
★ / ★★★★

The predecessor of the consistently disappointing “Unfriended: Dark Web” passes for marginal entertainment because it deals with the repercussions of cyberbullying and it is able to stick with the conceit of telling a story through a computer screen. While the sequel, written and directed by Stephen Susco, checks the latter box, it rests on its laurels by simply providing a surface definition of “dark web” because defining it thoroughly, and accurately, is to assume that the audience is intelligent enough to catch on. What results is a crippled horror film—not scary, mysterious, or suspenseful in terms of content; repetitive, flat, and predictable in terms of structure. One would be better off reading about the dark web for the same amount of time and walking away more knowledgeable of its pros and cons.

Horror films are designed to move the audience in whichever direction. Halfway through, I discovered I felt nothing toward this movie, not even mild curiosity, because it does not bother to establish what the material is about. The problem is the screenplay. We are provided snippets of Matias (Colin Woodell) and Amaya’s (Stephanie Nogueras) relationship, specifically how it is a struggle to maintain what they have because she is deaf and he is not completely motivated to learn sign language, the power dynamics between Matias and the person who owns the laptop that our protagonist had stolen, and an extremely shallow dynamics among Matias and his friends. But none of these threads are compelling because the convergence point of these strands is treated almost like an afterthought.

Marginally intriguing are the videos that Matias discovers in a hidden folder. It shows girls and women hours or minutes before their deaths with hints of how the bodies are disposed. Of course, they are tortured first. Had the writing been sharper and the violence actually shown to prove a point, it might have worked as potent commentary of how women are treated online, especially by those who lack the courage to show their names and faces right next to their disgusting and misogynistic comments. This is only one of the many missed opportunities that the film fails to tap into.

As it is, scares are absent. There is tension-building regarding when or how Matias will reveal to his friends that he and his girlfriend are in serious trouble. Clashes between what to do—play along with the perpetrators or go to the police—are not given enough time to boil, however. Out of the six friends on the computer screen, the criminally underrated Betty Gabriel provides the standout performance—I wished that it the story were told from Nari’s perspective because Gabriel gives the character a feeling of proactiveness, resourcefulness that would make the character a real threat against the mysterious group called The Circle. Instead, we get Matias who gets so overwhelmed by his emotions that he is unable to think his way out of a paper bag.

I believe these “Unfriended” movies are not meant to be scary—which is not a bad thing. Horror films do not always have to be scary. After all, it is so difficult to make a horror film frightening, particularly the obvious kind, when the antagonist is undefined or hidden from the screen that we see everything through. I believe they work better as projects to make the audience stop and consider, sort of like extended episodes of “Black Mirror.” But this work does not hold a candle against any episode of that show, even against the bad ones.

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