Released in 2014, Unfriended took the concept of a horror film centred around found footage and brought it straight into the 21st Century – and the 2010’s most specifically – with a chiller that set itself within the world of a Skype conversation.
Four years later and the film gets itself a stand-alone sequel; new cast, new story and one that has less of a supernatural flavour. It catapults itself into finding its scares, thrills and chills within a paranoid inducing narrative that includes webcam, surveillance, video chat and the already horror genre sounding dark web, which is where the film takes its title from just to hammer home the point.
With a predominantly unknown cast, and marking the directorial debut of Stephen Susco (previously a screenplay writer on The Grudge and Texas Chainsaw 3D), who apparently shot the film in secret over one week, Unfriended: Dark Web comes at us with an unsubtle sledgehammer to most of its themes and its paranoia over where we are today.
The film is unsubtle for sure but it’s hard not to get swept away with its narrative and use of Skype, Facebook Messenger, Apple desktop features and Spotify to tell its story. It never for once achieves any sort of subtlety with what it sets out to do, but it does what it does entertainingly well, ending with a chilling downbeat denouement (depending on what version of the film you see if popular rumour is to be believed) and an ending that hints at a possible third movie. Although, given that this has little to no connections to the first film, it remains to be seen if the final image and its ramifications will indeed carry over to any potential third instalment.
There are one or two jump scares dotted throughout; one very effective in particular in the first third that kick-starts the more relentless and terrifying second act of the film. Thankfully it doesn’t rely on them too much, with Susco wonderfully depending on the film’s themes and his script to carry home some of the more chilling moments.
The cast, led by Colin Woodell as Mattias, are surprisingly engaging and carry the film along, possibly more than how they’re written in the script, but thankfully the performances along with Susco’s direction and carrying of the film’s darker elements and ideas manage to make the film even more effective than it might have been.
Fantastically, the film even manages to make the Skype jingle into a tune of terror anytime it’s heard in the movie, possibly ensuring a chill up the spine for anyone using the popular video chat device in the future.
Found footage movies, such as [REC], Cloverfield and Phoenix Forgotten, can sink or swim on whether or not the audience can believe the film can warrant continuing as it goes on, with the question of why the characters are still filming being one that can make a film of the horror sub-genre successful. The granddaddy of the genre, The Blair Witch Project, always had a way of falling apart for me because of it, prompting much shouting of “put the camera away” during my first viewing of it on home video.
There’s a feeling that Unfriended, particularly with Dark Web, gets away with it; there’s an urgency to the narrative, genuine stakes and a level of threat that may be hard to escape if the characters simply switch of their laptops and turn the other way. In fact, the film builds to a crescendo that sees the cast put through their emotional paces, with one character in particular at the centre of an almost intense and dramatic Sophie’s Choice dilemma.
It may not exactly be great cinema, but it is surprisingly good, dark fun and while it may not become a classic of the genre, or even be one of Blumhouse’s greatest efforts, there is something here that will leave you pondering its themes; and ideas and it’s not often that many found footage horrors can do that.