Ambitious horror drama continues to shine in ‘Unfriended’ series

Image courtesy OTL Releasing.

9/10 And now for the surprise sequel to Unfriended, a movie that consists entirely of one long take on a single computer screen. It’s almost impossible to complete a movie within that specific a set of limitations and not have it be great.

Unfriended: The Dark Web takes place on the brand-new computer screen of Matias O’Brien (Colin Woodell), who has stolen a high-quality laptop that has languished for weeks in the lost-and-found at the coffee shop where he works. O’Brien needs a better computer to work on his Sign Language translation program, which he hopes will help him better communicate with his deaf girlfriend, Amaya DeSoto (Stephanie Nogueras). After an early argument with her, O’Brien joins a Skype chat with their friend group alone, but soon discovers the laptop contains horrifying snuff films of the original owner torturing young women. That owner soon discovers who’s stolen his laptop, and turns his attention to DeSoto.

Where the first movie centers on a spectral Skype profile, Unfriended: The Dark Web is grounded in natural horror. It’s not quite realism, but director Stephen Susco is making a concentrated point about how we treat strangers in the digital age. Where misogynistic, violent vitriol with nothing behind it is the norm in many parts of the Internet, Susco imagines a world in which those threats are made good on.

With the main horror centered on malicious communication, what really sells Dark Web as a film in general is how heavily it focuses on regular communication. O’Brien’s and DeSoto’s opening fight plays out in spoken English, Sign Language, written English and the rich language of non-verbal cues. When you strip everything away, almost all movies are only as good as the scenes that are just two people talking, and in Dark Web, those scenes are of rich, multi-language and multi-layered communication that paints a detailed picture of a failing relationship.

Like the first movie, O’Brien’s choice of music, hesitation while typing and secondary windows are all incorporated into the story to give viewers a unique view into his mind.

The Unfriended movies get a lot of grief for feeling gimmicky, and I get that, but by their very nature, they’re exactly the kind of uniform, full-throttle experience I hope for when I go to the movies. Committing to this framing device means committing to a single, 90-minute scene — already an extremely difficult thing to write and execute, but extremely impressive when done correctly — one that is meant to be edited into a single take, as well as only a handful of camera angles. It means committing to finding a new way to tell a story, committing to justifying these sacrifices by telling stories in a way they couldn’t otherwise. I love the creativity that must be present for these projects to come together at all, I love the audacity it takes to pursue them in the first place and I can’t wait to see more.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate and managing editor of The Lewisville Texan Journal. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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