By DEIRDRE CRIMMINS
UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB
Starring Rebecca Rittenhouse, Betty Gabriel, & Chelsea Alden
Written and Directed by Stephen Susco
Though UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB premiered at South by Southwest Film Festival in March, the screening at Fantasia on Friday the 13th was the first time that an audience saw the final cut of the film, ahead of its wide release this week. It is a fitting unleashing of the horror franchise’s second entry, as the first film had its world premiere at Fantasia in 2014 under its original title CYBERNATURAL.
Like the previous films, UNFRIENDED, DARK WEB entirely takes place within a computer screen. This time around we are seeing the movie through the eyes of Matias (Colin Woodell) who, along with his friends, is having a game night online, which is further complicated by his fight with girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras). As the evening progresses, the fight with Amaya also does, and it surfaces that the laptop he claims to have bought off Craigslist has a deep, dark history of its own.
Unlike the original, UNFRIENDED, DARK WEB does not involve any supernatural or fantastical elements. Everything we see on screen does not require the audience to suspend their disbelief in in ghosts or boogeymen. Ironically, this claim on reality makes the film far less believable, given that it is easier to accept that a phantom is capable of traveling to these various locations to terrorize each person in a group chat, than to think of a person or organization would have the same level of power to do the same. The criminal underbelly of the dark web is vast and hidden, but it still should be grounded in the laws of logic and physics. Also, the repeated effect of pixelating away any potential on-screen violence worked when we believed it was an otherworldly force, but is just a little confusing when it keeps blurring humans who could not possibly have that control over each and every inch of the screen.
Even with this shortcoming, DARK WEB is still generally successful in getting scares. Watching the horror through Matias’s screen is effectively done, and does make it feel as though we are trapped there with him. The tight framing of each friend’s face within their Skype chat also intensifies the experience of watching them watch their friends suffer. The cast tends to play well with this long exposure on screen as well as the extreme closeups needed when they lean in to their computers. As the rare dissenting friend, Betty Gabriel shines in her earnest response to this horrifying experience.
Were it not for all of the violence taking place off screen, or the magically malfunctioning pixels as soon as things starts getting good, UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB may have lived up to the high bar set by its predecessor. Instead, we have been given a serviceable horror film that may still make you a little apprehensive around your laptop and smartphone.