Unfriended (2014) did little to impress me, as the novelty of a movie made on a computer screen wore off quickly. I was at SXSW when Unfriended: Dark Web (2018) premiered, but I decided not to make an effort to see it because of my apathetic feeling towards the first. However, the buzz I heard about the film peaked my interest, and now that it is in wide release, I ventured to the theater to see if it could overcome my feelings of the first…and it did.
Dark Web was extremely effective at what it set out to do
Matias (Colin Woodell) comes into possession of a new laptop and begins chatting with his friends on Skype. He is fighting with his girlfriend, Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras), on Facebook, because he isn’t putting enough of an effort into learning sign language. While exploring his new laptop, he comes across a bunch of content that prompts the original owner to reach out to him. Things escalate, and Matias learns that there is much more at stake on this night than a new computer.
The novelty of the film still isn’t something I want to see become common, but it works in this movie. The entire cast is solid and considering that most of the movie is them in a close-up in front of a computer monitor, that’s super important. The premise of the dark web and the hacker’s apparent ability to tap into almost any cameras attached to wi-fi is immediately stressing. Director Stephen Susco really does a great job crafting suspense and pacing the film. The ending isn’t as strong, though there are two different ones – the film achieved what it set out to do.
Matias is a character who manages to earn the audience’s empathy despite making some questionable choices with the new computer. He clearly loves Amaya, and when he realizes the trouble he has created for himself and his friends, the remorse he shows is clear. Yet, he’s also able to play along with the hacker’s demands. The rest of the cast, which includes Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Chelsea Alden, Andrew Lees, and Connor Del Rio, is also strong. In some ways, the style of this movie resembles a play with a group of people sitting around talking with lots of dramatic irony. With a weaker cast, this movie would fall apart rather quickly.
That’s not to say there are no flaws with Unfriended: Dark Web. A few choices with some of the technology and how the hackers are able to control things fall flat. Some of the aesthetic elements, like the fuzzy effect used to conceal certain elements, could be a result of the low budget, but it doesn’t make them work any better. As the film goes on, it does get a little bit repetitive, but it moves quickly, so it’s definitely tolerable.
Ultimately, Unfriended: Dark Web did a great job of freaking me out. I walked out of the theater with a strong sense of dread and paranoia. It was an overall enjoyable experience if you don’t mind being scared or stressed out. A large part had to do with enjoying the characters and generally caring about their well-being. The movie earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.