It’s hard to think of a new movie more dated than Unfriended: Dark Web. That’s a surprising thing to say about a film featuring tech-savvy 20-somethings using recent technology like Spotify and Faceboook Live to play Cards Against Humanity. But the movie’s treatment of internet terrorism comes directly from 90s thrillers like The Net. Like that Sandra Bullock vehicle, Dark Web‘s bad guys control the internet to a degree only found in alarmist local news pieces, claiming that anyone with the right skills and modem can practically change reality.
Like its predecessor, Unfriended: Dark Web displays only the laptop screen of its protagonist, with all of the interactions and exposition coming in the form of windows he opens. In this case, we’re watching programmer Matias (Colin Woodell) get used to the Macbook he swiped from the lost and found of a local internet cafe. After his sign language app fails to impress his deaf girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras), Matias takes comfort in an online game night with his circle of friends: conspiracy theorist A.J. (Connor del Rio), newly engaged couple Serena and Nari (Rebecca Rittenhouse and Betty Gabriel), musician Lexx (Savira Windyani), and computer genius Damon (Andrew Lees). Matias soon discovers that the previous owner is part of a group called The Circle, for whom he captures and murders girls in snuff films he sells on the titular Dark Web. He wants his laptop back and he’s willing (and unbelievably able) to kill Matias and his friends to get it.
An extension of the verite horror of Mondo and found footage movies, the laptop screen hook effectively sells the film’s veristimilitude. From the opening startup screen onward, Matias and his friends use real websites like Google and Spotify instead of the usual royalty-free subsitutes. And for the first half of the movie, the cast feels like a believable take on standard horror movie victims. While the annoying guy and the sweet girl only get shading enough to set up their ironic deaths, they all fit within the genre. Even more impressively, the cast manages to play the stock characters like real people, particularly Rittenhouse and Get Out‘s Gabriel.
But that realism ultimately goes to waste as the film plays out. The first Unfriended film used the technological setup to tell a ghost story, in which a vengeful spirit took control of computers to off members of a group chat. The sequel’s monster seems more grounded, but all they do is add uncomfortable nastiness to a fundamentally silly film. The murder movies they make may not show much (in fact, if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen most of them), but the inferecences are bleaker than this movie really wants to deal with.
That silliness comes through when the Dark Web killers take aim at Matias and his friends. We’re told that The Circle do their nefarious deeds through computers, but they possess near-omnipotent powers, able to edit and transmit perfectly believable video on the fly and send vans flying into frame at a moment’s notice.
All of that would be good for a laugh or two, but the movie’s tonal shifts, from the unpleasant snuff films to the unbearably labored romantic plot between Matias and Amaya, bogs down any moment Dark Web may build. And while the film’s laptop screen conceit might be clever, it quickly becomes visually boring and hard to justify when the movie breaks from it with non-diagetic sounds.
With nothing on the movie screen to really hold your attention, moviegovers would be forgiven for turning for something more engaging on their smartphone screens.