I’ll be the first to admit it, but I slept on UNFRIENDED, a.k.a. CYBERNATURAL, when it released into theaters in 2014. I think it was the glut of less than stellar post-2000s teen horror films that really exhausted me and I just didn’t have it in me to watch another supernatural horror film that had unlikable leads in it. So I finally watched it and really enjoyed the hell out of it. The conceit of watching a bullied ghost seek revenge on her tormentors unfold in real time on a laptop worked like gangbusters, and the film had a merciless nastiness that made UNFRIENDED stand out above the other adolescent dreck flooding the cinemas.
So, when Blumhouse announced UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB, I was truly excited to see what was going to happen next. DARK WEB is more of a spiritual sequel to UNFRIENDED–the concept remains the same, a real time horror film wherein adults are menaced by an unknown force and over the course of a night are tormented ruthlessly. This time though, the characters are actually likable and the reasoning for their comeuppance has nothing to do with anything they’ve done to anyone but rather that they’ve gotten in over their heads with some pretty nefarious folks. This time, there’s no supernatural goings on, it’s all about the scariest real-world monsters–the killers hiding behind the ones and zeroes of the dark web.
The plot is simple and one doesn’t want to divulge too much about what precisely happens–essentially our lead, a supremely likable Colin Woodell as Matias, steals a laptop from a computer cafe, discovers disturbing videos of women placed in horrifying scenarios, and then slowly the worst possible things start to unfold and ensnare the leads in the film with seemingly no chance of escape. To the film’s credit, first time director (and longtime script penman) Stephen Susco keeps the story’s secrets concealed until the perfect time, and then he excellently deploys another plot bomb that shatters the audience before moving on to the next nightmarish development. The good thing is, the humor and horror balance nicely because it really catches you off guard. Are we going to be laughing for the next five minutes? Or is Susco going for the fucking throat here? Sometimes–it’s at the same time.
The film moves lightning fast and throws out the thrills and chills as quick as they’re likely to throw out a joke. The warmth of the actors involved–standouts include Connor Del Rio–who has such an ingratiating role, and the most disturbing part in the film’s climax (seriously, it’s one of the biggest menaces infecting social media and the longer the scene goes on, the more the dread flows into your blood), and the beautiful and innately talented Betty Gabriel (she’s the Blumhouse lucky charm as their best repertory actor), lets you actually feel for them as they dive head over heels into the world of these spooky contract killers they’ve stumbled onto. Normally I hate “sinister cabal” horror movies because it serves to up the stakes on a low-scale movie. It’s the reason why I don’t favor the latter part of MUTE WITNESS.
Sure, there are some wonky elements to it–there’s a particular part that hews a little too closely to a certain segment of VHS. But when you’re seeing the videos these folks have discovered on the laptop, you’re not going to be worried about the little things. The videos are some snuff-lite stuff. But they worm into your brain and give you the willies. Think something akin to a non-supernatural SINISTER. And the ending (particular the entire last act) is the nastiest, most mean spirited coda committed to modern, mainstream celluloid. Throughout the entirety of UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB, one feels like their skin is crawling. You’re going to require a couple of showers after this is over. The things I’ve seen in UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB will freak audiences out.
But avoid the trailers. Seriously. They spoil way too much of the fun surprises that the filmmakers have set up for you, including one moment that serves as the most blood-chilling and heartbreaking scene in the entire film.
Watch the movie. Avoid the trailer.
–Nathan Smith (@madmanmarz85)
Tags: Andrew Lees, Betty Gabriel, Blumhouse, Colin Woodell, Connor Del Rio, Douglas Tait, Horror, Jason Blum, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Savira Windyani, Stephanie Nogueras, Stephen Susco, Timur Bekmambetov