Stephen Susco’s Unfriended: Dark Web is a sequel not of content but of form, focused on an entirely different set of characters than the ones seen in Levan Gabriadze’s Unfriended. Both groups mostly do the same thing throughout—e-conference with their friends on Skype—but what the two horror films share most prominently is that they take place on a single computer screen, maintaining claustrophobic tension while showcasing a veritable ballet of moving windows while different programs, text chats, and video calls are brought forward and then pushed aside. If many people now watch movies on their laptops, why not laptops on their movies too?
Unfriended dealt with bullying on social media, while its sequel tackles, well, the dark web, where users are anonymously trading bespoke snuff and torture films. Matias (Colin Woodell) takes a laptop from an internet café’s lost and found, because he needs a smoother machine to work on an app he’s developing. The program seeks to facilitate communication between Matias and his deaf girlfriend, Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras), by converting typed text into videos of American Sign Language. But the computer keeps crashing because the memory is almost full—of horrifying videos. In one, a woman, chained to a wall, runs frantically for a can of food she can’t reach, and in another, a hand unscrews the cap on the spout of a large gas can, revealing the eyes and fingers of a frightened woman looking out from inside.
Matias, his friends, and the audience view these videos for only a few seconds. Susco summons a powerful amount of suspense without gratuitous imagery; those mere glimpses of women in peril are haunting. Such scenes of violence aren’t new to the horror genre, but they’re especially effective here, perhaps because it’s easier to identify with the horrified reactions of the film’s unextraordinary main characters than the victims in extreme—and for most, extremely unrelatable—circumstances. In general, we can see ourselves more in people watching horror movies than in those who suffer in them.
Unfortunately, Susco doesn’t prove as adept a screenwriter—even though he’s been writing horror movies and thrillers for more than a decade, from the American remake of The Grudge to Beyond the Reach. Matias is cyberstalked by the owner of the laptop, who wants it back, and the plot eventually encompasses a much broader and much more implausible conspiracy, in which a group of determined, wealthy hackers can do just about anything. In one byzantine setup, they get Matias’s politically paranoid friend, AJ (Connor del Rio), killed by manipulating his ranting YouTube videos to draw police to his house, then downloading sound effects to his computer to goad police into shooting him. Every character is eventually offed in such gruesome, wicked, and spectacular ways. Dark Web is preposterously conceived, but Susco so tightly, excitingly executes it that you hardly notice.