UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB **** USA 2018 Dir: Stephen Susco. 92 mins
Shedding the supernatural angle of its predecessor, writer-director Stephen Susco’s DARK WEB retains its format, unfolding entirely from a computer screen during a five-way Skype chat between friends and incorporating the mediums of FaceTime, Facebook, Wikipedia and Spotify along the way. The opening cannily positions the story in our technologically saturated world: a series of failed log-ins as an unseen character repeatedly fails to type the correct password.
This and almost everything else about the film will date it more than most of its genre stablemates though it may endure as a fascinating time capsule piece from our troubled age. While striving to solve communication issues with his deaf girlfriend, our hero (Colin Woodell) has acquired a used laptop, discovering its slow performance is due to a 960gb file of sinister amateur movies of the kind that are profitably traded around the dark web. Soon he’s being harassed via auto logged-in social media platforms, seemingly by the previous user, demanding the return of the laptop. Topical references to Cambridge Analytica, Flint Michigan and “Covfefe” position this intense movie in the here-and-now. Like UNFRIENDED, the format is inventively used for maximum dread and suspense as we become helpless, voyeuristic witnesses to a small group of relatable human pawns lured to their doom by a much more powerful user of the same technology. The script sets up initially innocuous interactions (notably a game of Cards Against Humanity) that recur later in a much more dangerous context and has the courage of its convictions to not cop out at the end. The only major drawback with this insidiously creepy sequel is the thematic similarities to a whole bunch of earlier American horror films, from HOSTEL III and THE DEN through to the more recent THE BELKO EXPERIMENT, which has a very similar final pull-back.
Review by Steven West