‘Unfriended: Dark Web’ attempts decently scary nerd horror

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Blumhouse Productions /Courtesy

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Grade: 2.5/5.0

The concept of the dark web is something vastly unrecognized in Hollywood movies, and yet the new film directed by Stephen Susco, “Unfriended: Dark Web,” still does not satisfy the tech-centered horror niche many viewers may have been hoping it would fill.

The newest Blumhouse Productions addition, which alternatively could have been called “Things That Can Go Wrong With Used Laptops 101,” details the horrific happenings among a group of six friends trying to enjoy their evening together over a video streaming service. After getting hold of a used laptop and being suddenly caught up in the files of the previous owner, things get suspicious real fast.

Playing out an entire story within the frame of a laptop screen is a unique twist on traditional cinematography, making viewers feel as if they’re watching the scenes on their own laptops — a platform probably better suited for this film. This angle, especially in the theater, adds an extra level of cheesiness one would expect from a movie taking place entirely over a video call. The film should have expanded beyond the characters’ screens, decreasing the tackiness and potentially upping the realistic terror.

The digital undertone of the film also should have been significantly more terrifying than it was, but the melodramatic screen glitches and voice changing software implemented whenever the antagonist appeared took away from the actual scariness of the scenes. Sure, it’s still arguably unnerving, but mostly for the novelty of the shot-through-a-laptop factor.

Fortunately, the confining nature of telling a story through a laptop screen allows for much more reliance on character performance, and the cast does not disappoint in that respect. The acting of main character Matias, played by Colin Woodell, is surprisingly believable. The amount of emotion he literally brings to the table over the video call pulls viewers into the conversation, as if he is talking directly to the audience.

Another endearing character performance is that of Stephanie Nogueras as Amaya, Matias’ girlfriend and motivation throughout the film. In this role, Nogueras does wonders for the representation of deaf actors — although her deafness is apparent and plays a part in her relationship with Matias, the movie does not fit her into any stereotypes. Rather, the film normalizes her place in the friend group in a way that brings a comfortable reality to the screen.

It was rather nice to see the relationship play out between Matias and Amaya, as they often implement American Sign Language, or ASL, into their video conversations. ASL is not something you’d commonly see on the silver screen in a casual manner, and these scenes highlight the struggles deaf people face daily with these kinds of conversation platforms. The diverse representation is only furthered with the other characters on screen, including a newly engaged interracial lesbian couple, a British man and an Asian woman.

Regardless of the characters and framing, the overall intensity of the film will leave you stressed, concerned and terrified of your electronics for at least a few hours. The nail-biting tension may not be as well done as you could hope for, but it’s still good enough to be genuinely freaky considering the weird reality of the concept.

Ultimately, this is another case of Blumhouse doing what Blumhouse does best: producing yet another B-movie horror special where you’ll walk out of the theater and be really confused for a minute about what exactly you just watched. For this particular film, you’ll jump back and forth between “wow I would not recommend that movie” and “I am questionably entertained and still kind of terrified.”

As absurd as the deep corners of the internet may be, any viewer can take away a few valuable lessons from “Unfriended: Dark Web”:

  1. Strengthen your online security.
  2. Don’t play Cards Against Humanity over the phone — that’s just weird. And finally …
  3. When faced with illegal files on a laptop that really isn’t yours, just throw the whole laptop away and save yourself the trouble.

“Unfriended: Dark Web” opens Friday at Shattuck Cinemas.

Contact Skylar De Paul at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.