Following the success of Unfriended, Blumhouse Productions wasted no time announcing a sequel. Writer and director Stephen Susco has some horror credentials. Previously, Susco worked on screenplays for The Grudge and Texas Chainsaw 3D. Though the sequel uses the same laptop and smartphone format, it’s a standalone film with no narrative connection to its predecessor.
Matias O’Brien is working on his new laptop, creating an app that will let him communicate with his deaf girlfriend, Amaya. Despite his efforts, a frustrated Maya explains that his app helps him understand her, but not vice versa. After they argue, Matias logs onto Skype for a game night with friends. Soon someone named Erica is sending Matias messages, claiming he has her laptop. Begrudgingly, Matias admits that he stole the laptop from an Internet cafe. When he discovers a series of secret ‘Dark Web’ files on the laptop, Matias and his friends become the targets of online predators.
The Internet is Like Dark Magic
First, Unfriended: Dark Web is completely unrelated to the first film. The sequel doesn’t even import the original film’s supernatural elements. The absence of the supernatural is either good or bad. This will depend upon your perceptions of the plausibility of Dark Web’s portrayal of the Internet.
Writer and director Susco relies on a long-running film trope to replace the supernatural story. According to Hollywood, computers and the Internet are magic. Horror films are no different. You can literally do anything with a computer and the Internet in horror films. Dark Web adopts a similar approach as another recent found footage horror film, The Den. Susco exploits vague audience familiarity with the ‘dark web’ to transform his online predators into preternatural predators. Most of what unfolds is completely implausible. But if you can accept the premise at face value, there’s some tense fun early in the movie.
Unfriended: Dark Web Delivers Some Tense Moments
In spite of the iffy premise, Unfriended: Dark Web ofers some early tense moments. Susco achieves most of this suspense by putting slight spins on scenes from the first movie. Those first moments as messages sent to Matias jump from benign to malevolent are unsettling. Though Susco capably re-imagines these bits, he clearly has no original ideas for the sequel.
The Den stretched the credibility of its premise, but Unfriended: Dark Web drives a semi-truck through its own logic.
Another problem that emerges for Unfriended: Dark Web is how quickly Susco allows the premise to leap into the ridiculous. Aside from its supernatural spin, Unfriended worked in part because it kept its world small. While Dark Web uses the same laptop screen format, it quickly drags in an entire cabal, The Circle, into the movie. It’s a world blown open where things unfold in completely unrealistic timelines. Susco’s later scares rely on convincing you that The Circle can literally be anywhere. The Den stretched the credibility of its premise, but Unfriended: Dark Web drives a semi-truck through its own logic.
You’ll Find Unremarkable Characters in the ‘Dark Web’
Unfriended had some unlikeable characters, but sequel Dark Web is populated with thoroughly unremarkable characters. Poor Betty Gabriel, fresh off her brilliant turn in Get Out, does her best. But she’s working with some threadbare material. Truth be told, Susco’s screenplay reduces his characters to props that are just waiting for bad things to happen to them.
Dark Web’s characters are underwritten and set against a completely unrealistic myth about online predators and the ‘dark web’.
The teens of Unfriended were unlikeable, but they were arguably typical narcissistic teens. In addition, the characters and their actions were set within a story about cyberbullying. What’s Matias O’Brien’s excuse for being such a jerk? And his character is pretty unsympathetic. Dark Web’s characters are underwritten and set against a completely unrealistic myth about online predators and the ‘dark web.’
Unfriended: Dark Web is a Servicable But Disappointing Sequel
Unfriended: Dark Web is not a bad movie. In fact, most viewers will find it to be a completely servicable thriller. Much of one’s ability to enjoy this sequel will hinge on how you perceive its treatment of the ‘dark web’. But even if you can buy the premise, Dark Web still feels like an unoriginal rehash with dwindling returns.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C+