Saturday, January 26, 2019

Film Review: Unfriended: Dark Web (Universal Pictures) by Dave Wolff

Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)
Director: Stephen Susco
Writer: Stephen Susco
With Colin Woodell, Stephanie Nogueras, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Connor Del Rio and Savira Windyani
Bazelevs Production, Blumhouse Productions, Universal Pictures
In 2015 a movie called Unfriended was released to theaters and greeted with mixed reviews. Some critics thought it was a horrible waste of celluloid, others thought it was a new, effective approach to horror filmmaking. You might call it ‘internet horror’ or something similar, as its storyline is about the spirit of a teenage girl haunting her friends through the internet. I personally liked Unfriended since it addressed anonymous cyberbullying with a supernatural theme. I found the movie to be inventive without trying too hard to be, since it drew from a real life issue that has been debated on for years.
I debated on whether or not to consider the similarities between this movie and The Blair Witch Project. The found footage/first person perspective has been imitated countless times since TBWP came out in 1999, and has become one of the longest running trends in Hollywood with no end in sight. Unfriended made an effort to break this mold. The first person perspective is still there, with ‘real time’ reactions from the central characters. But the arena of the internet is an obvious choice that was made full use of.
While Unfriended: Dark Web takes this approach to the next level, the theme is a little more realistic. This time the story draws from real life accounts of net surfers who visited what is called the ‘dark web’ or the ‘deep web’, sections of the internet where you can surf while remaining completely anonymous, concealing your identity from average surfers. According to urban legend, these parts of the internet are breeding grounds to many forms of unsavory activity, including the rumored ‘red rooms’ which you can read about on your own time if you’re so inclined. Youtube and Google crawl with tales of what goes on inside the dark web. Some may be true and some may not be. In any case, basing a sequel to Unfriended on these tales seemed a logical progression.
While Unfriended: Dark Web is based on a similar setting to Unfriended, It tells a different story that kept me paying close attention to the characters and what they experience. I don’t want to reveal too much besides the premise, as the character and plot developments are quite engaging and there are several unexpected twists. What sets the story in motion is one character stealing a used laptop and apparently falls foul of a shady organization known as ‘the Circle.’ If you decide to watch this movie (it’s available on DVD) you should keep in mind that nothing is as it seems, and even if you’re prepared the ending may well surprise you.
One thing I should note is that the theatrical release of Unfriended: Dark Web was released with two different endings, both of which were shown at different theaters. From what I read, the DVD release also has two more endings filmed for the movie. There are a few occult references worth mentioning as they were a nice touch for the storyline; members of ‘the Circle’ are referred to as Charons (the name is from the Greek mythological figure who ferries the recently deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron. There is a reference to the practice of trephination which may appeal to fans of death metal and goregrind.
On a conventional note, Unfriended: Dark Web shows web surfers of different lifestyles interacting together, presenting them as equals and as people without shoving their lifestyles down your throat. It also suggests (and this is a personal perspective) that people spend far too much time on the net, connecting with each other through several outlets at once. -Dave Wolff

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