Unfriended: Dark Web Review (2018)

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Unfriended: Dark Web

Directed by Stephen Susco

OTL Releasing/Blumhouse Tilt

www.unfriended-darkweb.com

Technology has become the new face of terror in the modern age and in the stand alone sequel “Unfriended: Dark Web” a group of friends find themselves ensared at the mercy of a murderous cabal.

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Removing the supernatural scares of the 2015 original, “Dark Web” instead options for fear in real time with flesh & bone beings engaged in monstrous acts that appear otherworldly but merely manipulate an interconnected Earth for inhumane efforts. Named after the actual seedy underbelly of the Internet, filled with hardcore sex, soft crush and vile acts too numerous to name, the focus here harkens back to the “torture porn” heyday of the mid 00s combined with that time periods other obsession, Asian horror obsessed with the evils inhabiting creature comforts.

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Mathias (Colin Woodell) is in desperate need for such an item when he swipes a laptop left for weeks in the lost & found of his coffee shop to complete an app that will help him better communicate with his hearing-impaired girlfriend. As he balances between trying to mend their relationship issues and his closest friends engaged in a weekly “game night” (the films working subtitle, though fitting was changed for obvious reasons) it quickly becomes apparent that the owner of the Macbook wants it back and is not above delving into the very depths of humanity to retrieve it. In fact, as the group discovers is his exact purpose as snuff videos take up the bulk of the hard drive space and an entire network of evil congregants eager for more (complete with some killer MS-DOS style graphics!)

For fans of the first film expecting ghastly spirits and jump scares galore (or even the smattering of social commentary) are going to be disappointed. While it starts off strong, it becomes almost immediately apparent that is going to play out as a thriller and not a genuine horror film. There’s nothing wrong with changing up the form (another Blumhouse sequel, “The Purge: Anarchy” is the most successful example in this subgenre) but this doesn’t feel like an all out siege; it’s more of a cat & mouse game without enough meat to warrant the chase with any ferocity. Its premise had potential but gets bogged down far too easily by its own bloated overreach. Even if one can suspend disbelief, with such minimal sets, basic imagery and intermittent action, the cast needs to sell it and unfortunately, fall short.

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Colin Woodell (“Unsane”) is the only remotely convincing character and while he is largely a generic, stock composite, he still manages to bring a genuine sense of urgency, anger and power to the role. Towards the end of the film (and prominently featured on the promotional materials) are his strained, bloodshot, tear filled eyes that had such intensity been maintained once the noose started swinging might have saved this one from the cinematic gallows.

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Conspiracy theorist AJ (Conner Del Rio) is excellent as the comedic relief but other characters are forgettable and the most glaring instance is Serena (Rebecca Rittenhouse) whose simply not convincing when things take a sharp downturn and her outbursts of anger & anguish are almost laughable while her other half Nari (the incredible Betty Gabriel, my personal favorite performer in “Get Out”) deserves better than a throwaway role like this.

“Hostel” is a pronounced influence here (I practically expected the Elite Hunting Club tattoo to make an appearance in blurry, brutal snuff video) but the deaths are not nearly as fun or gory as the initial offering, which is surprising seeing as this is rated R and comes across like a hard PG-13 at best.

Not going to say you’ll want to block this one immediately from your summer screening schedule (and with two different endings being released to theaters, there’s finally a horror film taking advantage of MCU type stinger appeal) it’s worth checking out for found footage fans and Blumhouse devotees but make sure that if you’re going to get caught in the dark web, it’s at matinee prices.

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