UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB - Review - We Are Movie Geeks



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Okay, so last Friday was the thirteenth, but that doesn’t stop the studios from releasing a new horror/thriller into the blockbuster-heavy Summer movie marketplace. Well the film itself is new, but it’s a follow-up to a modest hit from way back in 2015. So, is this set in a creepy old castle, or in a decaying and crumbling moldy mansion? No, those settings are passe and a tad tame for modern scary stories and their fans. The really terrifying backdrops aren’t “Camp Crystal Lake” or even the “House on Haunted Hill”. Here’s a hint: you’re there at this moment. Of course, the new hang-out for goons and monsters is the internet. It’s not a huge stretch to think of a web portal as a long hallway leading to a dungeon with tabs and ads popping up like zombies and ghouls. In this sequel (in name only), the forces of evil are streaming (and screaming) through your router in UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB.

Actually the whole story is told on the screen of a laptop. First we see an unseen user trying to access the laptop by making several password guesses. After a fairly short time, he’s in. Soon a video screen tab pops to reveal the person at the keyboard, Matais (Colin Woodell). He makes a Skype call to his hearing-impaired girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras). He’s eager to show her the voice to type chat program he’s rigged up (she has trouble reading his lips and he washed out at learning sign language) with this great laptop he bought on Craigslist. When the program stalls, frustrating Amaya, she starts to click out, but Matais reminds her that it’s game night via video chat with their old college buddies. Suddenly the small video screens begin popping up. From England there’s the bespectacled hunk Damon (Andrew Lees). Back in the states, there’s the conspiracy theory motormouth Aj (Connor Del Rio). Music mixologist Dj Lexx (Savira Windyani) chimes in. Finally the final tab contains the newly engaged couple of Serena (Rebecca Rittenhouse) and Nari (Betty Gabriel). As they begin playing “Cards Against Humanity”, Matias continues to try and get a response from Amaya, but he’s also curious about the laptop’s former owner. He’s still able to access the Facebook account of “Norah”. Once he logs on, Matias is bombarded by urgent messages from woman around the globe. Then the more threatening messages begin. Seems that Matais is not quite telling the truth about his new acquisition, which soon draws him along with all his online pals into a shadowy world of Bitcoin-base butchery and vile video voyeurs.

Well kudos to the producers for at least footing the bill so that the real world apps aren’t replaced by distracting fictional brands like “Facegroup” or “Skyview”. This does help to add a sense of reality to many of the fantastical goings-on. As for my “sequel” comment, this has nothing to do with the events and characters of the 2015 original. There are no vengeful ghosts going after cyber-bullies. The one thing in common is that everything we see is on the desktop screen, so the “Unfriended” refers to the story-telling method and setting rather than a continuing cast of characters and locales. Screenwriter Stephen Susco in his feature film directing debut ably amps up the tension, juggling the myriad of popping tabs and video screens (which get just enough of the action), while fiddling with sound (no real score other than some current top 40-style tunes) to hammer the shocks. Unfortunately the in your face tabs, flickering arrows, and spinning color wheels get very repetitive and claustrophobic. We hope for a “break-out” from the tech tube that never occurs. Still, some of the actors are able to shine, making them more that thriller type “cannon fodder”. There’s a nice cozy chemistry between Rittenhouse and Gabriel (in her second Blum House flick after her powerful work in GET OUT), plus Del Rio is a a loopy and oh so smug “s*%#-stirrer”. And Woodell is all sweaty panic as the flawed hero. Still, it’s tough to really get to know them in the split/screen “real time’ constraints of this extremely downbeat, nearly hopeless tale of cyber-cruelty and crime. The baddies really seem to be able to do anything technically (even making themselves into scratchy specters on any monitor) and are literally everywhere at once. Perhaps the next in this “series” will delve more into the inner workings of these underground overlords. As for this one, I can’t hit the like icon for UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB, though I’ll not click the brown, “swirly-headed’ guy either.

1.5 out of 5

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

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