Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)
I wondered recently whether Unfriended (2014) would kick start an entire subgenre comparable to the “found footage” format. It would appear that it has, and these movies shot on phones, computers and other digital devices have subsequently been labelled “screenlife” films. It’s worth noting that Unfriended: Dark Web is produced by Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov who has already produced two other movies (Profile and Searching) using this technique. So, it won’t be surprising to see further forays into this style of film making. It is cheap, quick to make with a lot of box office potential. So, it’s hardly surprising to see Jason Blum (of Get Out and The Purge fame) attached to the credits as well. As for Unfriended: Dark Web it’s suitably nasty, voyeuristic, fare that is competently made. At this point the novelty of the “screenlife” films has yet run out, but it is still a physically challenging format to endure (as I found with its predecessor).
Technically talented slacker with a heart of gold Matias (Colin Woodall) “acquires” a new MacBook and sets about installing all his own files and personalising it. He’s working on a speech to text and signing app for his deaf girlfriend, Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras). She is not overly impressed because its primary purpose is to make it easy for her to understand him and not the other way around. As it’s “game night” he joins a group Skype call with his friends, tech wiz Damon, conspiracy theorist AJ, DJ Lexx, and couple Serena and Nari. After numerous reboots and a series of DMs intended for the previous owner, Matias starts digging around the root directory of his new laptop. This leads to a hidden folder filled torture and snuff videos. Matias soon realises that he and his friends are being watched online, by the computer’s original owner. They wants it back because it’s the only way to access a secure account with a substantial cryptocurrency deposit in it.
Writer director Stephen Susco certainly makes the most out of the “screenlife” format using every glitch, software buffering and packet loss to his advantage. Like the previous movie, the medium used to convey the story adds to the tension and growing suspense. However, once again to enjoy the movie to the fullest I had to watch on my 24-inch computer monitor, rather than on my lounge TV. Unfriended: Dark Web is convincingly acted by the young cast, in so far as the performances do feel like they’re captured from real life, which that’s not an easy thing to achieve. Again, the characters are flawed and therefore do come across as credible. The hubris and tempestuous emotions of youth are reflected well in the serviceable screenplay. The group of friends are overly confident in their collective tech abilities and is never crosses their mind that they’re being “played” until it’s too late.
The evil mastermind behind all these shenanigans is called Charon, which is the name of the ferryman in Greek mythology who took the dead over the river Styx to Hades. The movie then runs with this metaphor as the cast are bumped off in innovative ways. The main difference this time round is that there is a clear human agency behind all the mayhem, rather than the supernatural theme of the first movie. Although Unfriended: Dark Web is far from a milestone in the horror genre, it does have a point to make about voyeurism and the screen-dominated lives and social media leisure habits of the younger generation. Horror like any other cinematic genre has its elitists and snobs and I think that this movie got a tough time from those who see themselves “gatekeepers” or who are simply a few generations removed from such online culture. It’s not without flaws, but its not a complete dogs dinner and if approached with the right mindset it can be rewarding.