Cinematic Releases: Unfriended: Dark Web (2018) - Reviewed

Back in the dark ages, before the dawn of modern communication technology and social media, horror films relied on literal plot devices like land line telephones and VCR tapes to strike fear into audiences. Carrying on the tradition of everyday household items becoming menaces, a new generation of horror films decided to invade where folks spend most of their time these days: locked into their electronic devices. Beginning in 2013 with Zachary Donohue's woefully underrated, unnoticed The Den, then brought to the mainstream a year later with Levan Gabriadze's Unfriended, filmmakers broke new ground and gave viewers a totally fresh, ultra-voyeuristic perspective by filming completely through webcams and showing the viewer only what is visible through a computer screen. 

Both of these films were unexpectedly good; the new viewpoint avoided becoming annoying because the filmmakers presented their stories in such a way that the audience could become completely immersed in the action. While neither script would be considered for Masterpiece Theatre, both told solid stories and involved characters you could care about. Sadly, the other shoe had to drop eventually and the same cannot be said for Stephan Susco's Unfriended: Dark Web (2018).

The story starts out interestingly enough; Matias (Colin Woodell) gets a new-to-him laptop off Craigslist and can't wait to video chat with his girl and his friends. Not even one round deep into his Skype game of Cards Against Humanity, his fancy new MacBook starts acting a little funky; then, wouldn't you know it, bad things start happening. The early parts of the film are fairly enjoyable, with some solid laughs. Like the films that came before it, capable, likable actors were cast and the friendly banter and dialogue is entertaining. There's chemistry, which is especially compelling considering most of the actors are performing with each other only through webcam. Interestingly enough, the only one of the cast that's remotely unlikable is Matias. This is pretty clearly intentional, and Woodell does solid work with what he's been given. Stoner goofball AJ (Connor Del Rio) is a highlight, providing most of the comedic relief and doing it well.

The film's real failure is the execution of its script. There's some promise early on and the premise doesn't feel cliched or overused. But when the actual plot starts to unfold, the wheels fall off in a hurry. The revelations that come later in the film might have been interesting, had they been presented with even a tiny amount of clarity. Instead, the viewer is left with nothing but deep confusion and regret for what could have been. The end of the film is nothing more than a muddled, unintelligible mess. If, by some small chance, an audience member is able to decipher what the film was trying to portray, not only is it nearly a miracle, it's also extra frustrating to understand just how epically it failed.

They can't all be winners and Unfriended: Dark Web didn't even make it to the qualifiers. If you want to watch a really great example of what this subgenre of horror can be, go watch The Den. It's a much better use of your time.

--Josie Stec