When the first trailer for UNFRIENDED ran in theatres in 2014, the buzz was basically of a “can you believe they are doing this?” variety. However, festival screenings began to suggest that there was something more to the movie than just a questionable gimmick. By the time it hit theatres, horror fans greeted it with open arms and a significant number of critics ended up giving it solid reviews. Now, the sequel, UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB, aims to prove that success was no fluke.

There is a lot stacked against the film achieving that though. None of the actors are back — fans of the original will know why. The director and the writer of the first film have both been replaced by Stephen Susco, a writer with zero directing credits before this. Additionally, the trailer seemed to promise an entirely different plot with seemingly no supernatural elements. Does a gimmick hold enough of an attraction to make an otherwise completely divergent film work?

UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB
Colin Woodell encounters The River and the trouble begins in UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The Idea Behind UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB

A group of friends gathers for a game night, seemingly, at least once a week. While it is implied they often do so in person, they have chosen to stay in and do it via Skype this time.

Matias (Colin Woodell) is in the middle of a fight with his girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras). She is deaf and is so over his attempts to use technology to bridge the communication gap between them rather than just learning sign language. Nari (Betty Gabriel) had a miserable commute to get back to her girlfriend Serena (Rebecca Rittenhouse) and wants no part of getting back in a vehicle.

DJ Lexx (Savira Windyani) was game but appreciates an excuse to avoid a trip that involves multiple modes of public transportation. With Damon (Andrew Lees) already having to Skype in from England, alas, AJ (Connor Del Rio) is denied hosting duties. Given that he still lives with his mom, is Nari’s ex — when she still slept with men — a conspiracy nut, it seems this isn’t the first time the group has found excuses not to hang with him in person.

However, it is not the tech paranoid AJ that spells the group’s doom but rather Matias. Frustrated with the speed of his old computer, he fishes a seemingly abandoned one out of the lost and found. The laptop, however, is packed with dirty secrets from the previous owner. Ones that the owner cannot let see the light of day. And so the race is on for the group to save themselves — and a possible still living hostage — before the owner or the group he belongs to kills them all.

FIRST PURGE Is Utterly Dumb, Yet Somehow Smart

The Writing

I have to hand it to Susco, he made the DARK WEB crop of ‘net fodder a bit more likable than the previous group. With the exception of AJ — who clearly is supposed to be the annoying one — the rest are not a frustrating bunch to spend a 90+ minute amount of time with.

Their interactions do feel as though they have a relationship with one another that preceded the evening in question. There is an ease to how they talk to one another. The shorthand they use to reminisce that feels authentic.

As characters, they are thin, but not to a distracting degree. It is more than are archetypes. Damon is the tech guy. AJ is the paranoiac, Nari is the one with a sense of justice, Serena is the kind one, Matias is our protagonist, Amaya the innocent bait, and Lexx is…well…Lexx is the least served by the script.

As a delivery system for scares, the screenplay has much to recommend it. It has a nice early rhythm of letting in disruptions from what we know and the group will soon learn its danger. The way Matias cuts between the two, robbing us of a clear picture of either until the danger is all that anyone is focusing on is well done. The writing nicely alternates between information we already know but it is new to the group and information that is entirely new. It helps the viewer to feel uneasy without being completely oblivious to the stakes.

UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB
Colin Woodell, Rebecca Rittenhouse, and Andrew Lees stare at her hospitalized mom in a scene from UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Casting The Leads of UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB

Overall, the leads do well with the material. They sell the sense of college friends trying to hold onto their bonds post-college life well. They demonstrate how these people fell in together and why they are fraying little now, even if they won’t admit that. That said, only Gabriel stood out to me. However, I’m not sure if that is just because I recognized her straight away unlike the rest of the cast.

As I said, though, everyone is turning in solid performances.

Casting the Rest of the UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB Call Sheet

There really isn’t much of one, save Norah C IV/Charon IV. He is suitably menacing but he is mostly a computer effect, all static and voice modulation. Otherwise, all the supporting players infiltrate the film via private messages, recut YouTube clips, and silent men and women in hoods.

UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB
Some of the evil found in The River as depicted in a scene from UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Filming

DARK WEB lacks the same sense of claustrophobia the first iteration used so well. The webcams, as utilized by Susco and cinematographer Kevin Stewart, give a deeper sense of scope than those in UNFRIENDED original recipe. We can see Amaya’s apartment stretch backward in the distance. AJ’s basement is backgrounded by a staircase hinting at the larger space above. Happy couple Serena and Nari seem to be living in their own home.

However, what is lost without the sense of limited space is gained in storytelling. This group is in a different place than the previous set of victims — high school grads vs. adults several years out from college. It stands to reason this group would have a life beyond a bedroom.

Additionally, the story here is more expansive. The threat in UNFRIENDED came from their immediate past. In DARK WEB, what they must face is more nebulous and more global. It might be directly embodied by Norah C IV at first, but it runs far deeper. This is a movie that needs and wants the room to move and Susco gives it that.

Susco also does a strong job of raising tensions during the early part of the film. However, when the true horror of the horror movie arrives, the thing deflates. The scares are, well, not very scary to be frank. And this coming from an easily scared by horror movies person. The mystery is far more heart racing. When death finally arrives, it feels a bit more like a shrug than a climax.

The only exception is a kill involving a member of the group having to make a choice. While not particularly scary, it is the one moment amongst the killings that recaptures the mounting tautness of the early goings.

TRUTH OR DARE Too Rarely Dares to Surprise

About the Endings

DARK WEB arrived at multiplexes with one of two endings. The reels (or rather, data drives) were randomly assorted. There was no telling where and in what quantities they’d arrive.

I did my due diligence and took in both.

There is honestly not much to differentiate the two. Most of the fates are the same. The late film revelation is the same. The body count is nearly exactly the same. One of the two does, however, feature an ironic fate that is far nastier than the other ending. That one gets my vote. The other ending, truth be told, feels pretty lame.

UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB
Connor Del Rio, Andrew Lee, Betty Gabriel, and Rebecca Rittenhouse are helpless to aid Colin Woodell as he loses it in UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

That’s A Wrap!

DARK WEB is actually a pretty entertaining tense affair for about 2/3 to 3/4 of its running time. However, once lives start ending, it kind of falls apart. The kills are not creative, for the most part — no bedroom salsa, for one — and they feel inevitable instead of shocking.

Similarly, this one jettisoned a lot of the first’s goofy fun. I think DARK WEB is a more sophisticated movie for it. Unfortunately, I think losing some of the sillies also makes it less memorable.

Lastly, the two ending things. If you are going to make that work, both endings need to work. They have to be interesting, funny, scary, or, best of all, all of the above. The two don’t differ much overall and one of them is the decidedly weak sauce. Better off with one ending that guarantees everyone leaves saying, “Ooo, hate to go out like that.”

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