Combustible Celluloid
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With: Colin Woodell, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Betty Gabriel, Chelsea Alden, Andrew Lees, Stephanie Nogueras, Savira Windyani, Connor Del Rio
Written by: Stephen Susco
Directed by: Stephen Susco
MPAA Rating: R for some disturbing violence, language and sexual references.
Running Time: 88
Date: 07/20/2018

Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Net Pains

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This effective sequel uses the same design and execution as its predecessor, although the story here is less spooky and more brutally disturbing, closer to real-world terrors than to the supernatural.

In Unfriended: Dark Web, Matias (Colin Woodell) works on his new American Sign Language app on a new computer, hoping to impress his deaf girlfriend, Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras). He and Amaya argue over Skype, and then it's time for game night with Matias's friends: A.J. (Connor Del Rio), Damon (Andrew Lees), Lexx (Savira Windyani), and Serena (Rebecca Rittenhouse) and Nari (Betty Gabriel), who have just become engaged.

Matias's computer — which he picked out of the lost and found at a cafe — begins acting weird, and he discovers a hidden file full of strange, disturbing videos of girls in jeopardy. He pokes around further and finds info about huge transfers of money. Before long, a sinister figure called Charon is after him and his friends. Can the danger move past their screens and into their homes?

Horror screenwriter Stephen Susco (The Grudge, Texas Chainsaw 3D, Beyond the Reach) makes his directing debut, also writing the screenplay, taking over from the creators of the original Unfriended (2015), but adequately copying their intriguing idea. The entirety of Unfriended: Dark Web seems to take place in one shot, in real time, on a single computer screen, though the shifting windows, videos, chats, texts, and timers provide a sense of cutting, building a suspenseful rhythm.

Sound is also used cleverly, mixing Spotify playlists, keyboards clacking and mouses clicking, warning bings, and other familiar computer noises, but, again, orchestrated for suspense. The trouble comes with the darker material. The first film was a simple ghost story with a revenge plot, an old story maximized for the digital age, and a message against bullying. This one is a modern story, but one with horrifying repercussions.

The images of women held prisoner and tortured and/or murdered are vicious and hard to take. The movie scrapes by because the main characters are as shocked and sickened by these images as we are, but it still gets very close to crossing a line, and may indeed cross it from time to time. It's a well-made movie, though, and scary in a way that most horror movies are not.

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