SXSW 2018 Review: UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

At first, this particular title failed to pique my interest.  I had previously seen and reviewed the first Unfriended film, and though the concept is rather clever and relevant, its frights just never grabbed me.  Thankfully, a friend whose opinion I value went to the premiere screening and persuaded me to give it a shot.  With a more realistic approach, and better executed scares, this Unfriended sequel kept me riveted and enthralled as the disturbing events unfolded.  The movie went over well with the rest of the audience too, and I believe it is a flick that horror fans will really enjoy.

Just like the first film, this stand-alone installment of the franchise focuses of the computer screens of a group of friends having a video conversation via Skype.  Matias O’Brien (Colin Woodell) has brought home a mysterious notebook computer which he discovers in a lost and found.  He proceeds to share his finds with his friends on a Skype video conference call.  At first, the computer seems harmless enough; however, he discovers some strange secret files in the computer’s memory.  Opening these files with multiple witnesses proves to be an incredibly dangerous game as they reveal somer truly dark and disturbing activities by the computer’s owner.  As Matias and friends travel farther down the rabbit hole, they soon realize that the owner has been monitoring them and is about to strike.

Written and directed by Stephen Susco (The Grudge, The Grudge 2),  Unfriended: Dark Web takes the highly inventive concept of the first movie, but delivers genuine suspense and frights in ways where Unfriended simply fails.  I sat in my seat genuinely tense, unsettled and frightened.  Susco does an outstanding job of building the tension and succeeds in delivering proper scares in all of the right places.  The movie does have an advantage in that it is more grounded in reality and urban legend instead of the supernatural approach the first movie takes. I do like horror of the paranormal variety, but the first Unfriended lacks character development and relies too much on horror tropes to be completely effective.  After things begin to go South for the characters, the movie is restrained by an undeniable predictability and certainly tests the audience’s tolerance for poor decision making,  but Susco manages to pull some unexpected moments out if his bag of tricks.  The filmmakers have also cast a great group of actors to help make these events feel genuine.

In addition to Colin Woodell, who performs well as the lead. the movie also stars Rebecca Rittenhouse, Chelsea Alden, Stephanie Nogueras, and Savira Windyani– all delivering great performances.  I also must mention Blumhouse regular Betty Gabriel who always gives tremendous performances.  There is a good reason that producer Jason Blum loves to cast Gabriel in his movies.  She shows tremendous talent and versatility and has yet to disappoint him or movie audiences with substandard acting.

And though I originally thought this would be another lesser Blumhouse title, Stephen Susco, cast and crew definitely proved me wrong.  I am so glad that a fellow film critic talked me into seeing this movie, because I would have dismissed it otherwise.  Much like the Ouija sequel, this new Unfriended installment is better than its predecessor.  Unfriended: Dark Web takes the good from the first movie and does just about everything else better.

 

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