Unfriended: Dark Web (2018) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

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Matias' new laptop will finally make connections easier with his loved ones. What he doesn't realize is that his new laptop hides secrets and connections to a vile world full of people ready to do what they want to Matias and his friends. Stephen Susco wrote the screenplay for and directs Unfriended: Dark Web, which stars Colin Woodell, Stephanie Nogueras, and Betty Gabriel.

The worst thing I can write about Unfriended: Dark Web (just Dark Web moving on), is that it's the exact kind of film I thought 2015's Unfriended was going to be. Dark Web has more excellent sound design, some creepy detours into internet vaporwave aesthetics, and chilling implications for the way our "always on" technology has continued to ingrain itself into our lives. But it lacks the moral and cultural punch of Unfriended with Dark Web's characters not having much at stake going into the terror they're about to experience.

The biggest problem is that Dark Web's main characters are, for the most part, innocent of the kind of wrongdoing that warrants punishment from an international criminal cabal. Aside from main character Matias' (Colin Woodell) laptop theft that kicks off the night, no one has much of a life - digital or otherwise - that weighs in on what happens in multitude of screens in Dark Web. They're little better than blank slates and it's hard to get invested in what happens when the only expected response from each is, "Oh my god," or, "Why is this happening?" in various combinations. We're just waiting for the next scare instead of being drawn in by the character's reactions to what's going on.Dark Web might have overcome the limp protagonists with some excellent performances. The crew in front of the camera here is okay, not excellent, with one important standout in Betty Gabriel (who also made the most of her time in Get Out). Gabriel throws some much-needed skepticism and focus into the mix against the functional performances of everyone else. I also appreciate that Matias' love interest Amaya, who is deaf, is played by deaf actress Stephanie Nogueras. However, her character's not given anything to do, and her role as an out-of-reach woman in peril dash any hopes Nogueras might have been able to shape Dark Web's focus à la Millicent Simmonds' on and off-screen contributions to A Quiet Place.

When the scares come they needed to be better than they are to overcome the blank nature of the protagonists and okay work of the performers. When they're effective, like in a late film speedy video editing sequence, they raise some troubling questions about how easily information can be arranged against us when we live our lives online. Less effective is how the unarmed digital static killer shows up, types something menacing, then walks off. The former works because our lives online don't follow strict logical sense and our ability to be anyone can lead to trouble. The latter is just some person that looks like they struggle with stiff breezes.

I liked when Dark Web was less about the criminals stalking the protagonists and more about how easily we can get overwhelmed online. Portions of Dark Web are downright chaotic with double-digit numbers of frames filling the screen and audio coming from multiple sources at once. It's an interesting rejoinder to those that think multitasking on a computer is easy, because screenwriter / director Stephen Susco shows how overwhelming that is and when silence finally comes it's a welcome relief from the cacophony of clicking, music, and voices.That's where the brief vaporwave touch works well. There's one moment where the protagonists find the program the criminals use to conduct their ill deeds and Susco silently allows the old images of internet past to float onscreen. It suggests the idea that the old corners hide rotten foundations and, in our rush to have the best of everything, enterprising folks with a bit of know-how can get away with what they want when they want. It's not something Susco dwells or expands on but works as one moment of intriguing silence into a world viewers might not be familiar with.

The rest plays out in an elongated round of "gotcha". It's disappointing, but there's enough going on that if Dark Web serves as your introduction to the Unfriended films then you've got a nice surprise waiting for you if you go back to the original. If it continues on, Dark Web at least shows there's more to work with in future films, they just need a sturdier eye on making the horrific stakes matter.

Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

Screenplay written and directed by Stephen Susco.
Starring Colin Woodell, Stephanie Nogueras, and Betty Gabriel.

Posted by Andrew

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