Director: Stephen Susco
Cast: Colin Woodell, Stephanie Nogueras, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Connor del Rio, Savira Windyani
RunTime: 1 hr 28 mins
Rating: M18 (Some Homosexual Content & Violence)
Released By: UIP
Opening Day: 19 July 2018
Synopsis: Unfolding in real-time UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB is the most terrifying horror yet from theproducer of GET OUT, HAPPY DEATH DAY and THE PURGE, and the makers of UNFRIENDED. When a 20-something finds a cache of hidden files on his new laptop, he and his friends areunwittingly thrust into the depths of the dark web. They soon discover someone has been watching their every move and will gotounimaginable lengths to protect the dark web.
You don’t have to have seen ‘Unfriended’ to follow this so-called ‘stand-alone’ sequel; in fact, besides sharing a formal conceit, there is absolutely no relation between the two films, but let’s get their similarity out of the way first. Like the 2014 micro-budget horror turned modest hit, Stephen Susco’s ‘Unfriended: Dark Web’ takes place entirely on one laptop screen, unfolding through Skype sessions, Facebook chats, Google searches and even Spotify playlists. It’s a high-concept storytelling gimmick all right, designed to hold the attention of the modern-day digitally-savvy audience who are used to multi-tasking across several app screens at the same time.
Whereas the horror in the original was supernatural, that in ‘Dark Web’ is for the most part real, based upon the perversity that goes on in what is typically termed the dark net or deep web. There, if you believe Susco, anonymity breeds criminality – and on one particular message board called The River, dozens of users trade cryptocurrencies to indulge vicariously in revolting acts of violence committed against innocent hapless victims that have been kidnapped. The methods of torture include live burials, acid corrosion and trephination, and the price can easily go into millions of dollars. Oh yes, it’s wicked stuff indeed, and its members have named themselves after the ferryman of Hades known as Charon.
Stumbling unsuspectingly into this especially nasty corner of the Internet is twenty-something Matias (Colin Woodell), who purloins an abandoned MacBook from the lost and found section in a cyber café. His deed may be unscrupulous, but his intent is noble: he wants, but cannot yet afford, a better laptop so he can finish coding a programme he has designed to communicate with his deaf girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras). While on a ‘game night’ group Skype with his friends, Matias receives weird messages from the laptop’s previous owner’s Facebook friends. With the help of one of his own Skype friends, Matias decrypts the hidden folder within the MacBook’s hard disk, thus unearthing a hidden trove of fuzzy torture porn clips.
One of them in particular is of a 17-year-old girl who had gone missing from her bedroom just a week ago, but before Matias can decide whether to report what he had discovered, he is contacted by the laptop’s owner via Facebook Messenger, who has somehow managed to find a way to hack into his chat with Amaya and make these messages disappear shortly after. Said owner threatens to harm Amaya if Matias doesn’t return the laptop, but even more devastatingly, each one of Matias’ Skype friends is held hostage by the larger shadowy cabal. These overlords prove themselves to be even more vicious, expressing no qualms in sacrificing the innocent by pushing them off roofs or shoving them in front of moving subway trains.
Admittedly, things do get a little too far-fetched as they progress, especially given how the dark webbers seem to be omnipresent in the real world; nevertheless, there is no denying the clear and present fear one feels from watching how they make use of Matias’ friends’ respective digital trails against them, knowing that we too could just as easily become victims of our own complacency. Susco, who makes his directorial debut, has a knack for slowly peeling away the layers to reveal the depths of depravity, and it is to his credit that the film effectively builds up a sense of dread, suspense and tension from its deceptively calm early stages to its more hysterical later acts.
So gimmicky though it may be, ‘Unfriended: Dark Web’ proves a surprisingly effective marriage of technique to substance. In fact, we dare say it is a nifty twist on a first-person perspective that won’t make you feel nauseous or frustrating. That, and the fact that it is a timely cautionary tale about the nefarious forces that exist within the Internet which most of us casual users can’t even begin to comprehend. You’ve been warned – this isn’t some ghost movie in case you’re expecting it to be, but it is still a clever little thriller all right, whose scares are a lot more real, relevant and relatable.
(Less a horror than a thriller, this stand-alone sequel that - like its predecessor - unfolds entirely from one laptop screen is a surprisingly gripping watch)
Review by Gabriel Chong