When it comes to my own personal disagreements with Hollywood’s handling of famous tropes, within the context of talking about Unfriended: Dark Web, I must admit that I actually think it is the removal of the human element that makes a home invader or masked killer much more terrifying. It’s often been said that by making the killer more human, more of a character in his own right, he becomes scarier but I don’t think I agree with that, Hannibal Lector is a great character, sinister and creepy but terrifying? I’m not so sure about that.
In fact – do you remember the little French home invasion horror movie Them? Yeah, that scared the ever loving shit out of me if I’m coming clean and that was mostly down to the invaders being kept in the shadows, behind corners, standing ominously on the other end of the hall with their faces covered and without real humanity. They were more of a presence than people, an entity of ghost-like violent intent which is in line with what we imagine home invaders to be like when our mind starts to wonder towards standard fears – the idea of a home invasion is often scarier than witnessing one in a film; Them is the exception.
This is where I think Unfriended: Dark Web got it wrong which is especially a shame because it actually managed to withhold making this mistake for its entire first half. I was surprised at how much I was actually going with this movie while it was taking the time to set everything up, there was an atmosphere to it that was legitimately succeeding in getting under my skin. This young guy has stolen a laptop from where he works because he’s sick of his old computer being too slow for him to really have a conversation with his deaf girlfriend over Skype and during a game of Skype Cards Against Humanity with his circle of dumbass friends the real owner starts sending him threatening messages demanding the computer back.
It’s not long before he starts uncovering hidden files and content that would certainly freak me out if I found them on a computer and it all escalates from there. The first half of this movie functions like a mystery that happens to pertain to the dark side of the internet and I was relishing in it, the movie itself seemed to be enjoying the restrictions brought on by its format, same as the first – taking place entirely on a computer screen; I was even enjoying its move from the supernatural to a more true to life kind of horror. The tone was ominous, creepy and was doing a masterful job of igniting my imagination to do all of the work, I felt afraid to go home to bed once the film was over and wondered what the negative reviews were on about… then the film started showing too much.
All that stuff about getting my imagination to do all the work, presenting the threat in a purely suggestive manor and showing just the right amount of creepy stuff to get the job done via snuff films all gets abandoned once the owner of the computer physically makes an appearance. What was it I said earlier – the idea of a home invasion is scarier than actually seeing one in a film? Yeah, suddenly my imagination stopped being able to conjure more than what the celluloid was capable of, once this guy is revealed to have a voice kitted out with emotions such as anger and even fear he stops being what we perceive such people to be like in the backs of our minds.
It especially doesn’t help that whenever this guy appears on Skype cameras he is accompanied by a wild glitching effect that smothers his form with pixelated mishmash, which you would think would achieve the effect I’m complaining about the film not having, disguising his human shape and making him appear as something more sinister than simply a home invader etc. But the effect is so bombastic and in your face (not to mention the questions it invokes like why is it even happening in a logical sense) that it ends up achieving the opposite result, not scary, just bizarre and over the top – despite effort to continue keeping the threat obscured I don’t think it worked as well as simply suggesting the threat exists and is on to them.
Unfortunately it still has further down hill to go from there, once people start dying it just gets sillier and sillier, characters I thought seemed pretty capable for hapless horror movie victims start making silly mistakes that guarantee certain death if they would JUST NOT DO THAT! The major threat at work also begins to frame our poor victims for its crimes by changing faces in snuff film footage with Photoshop, something the police would be able to determine in a very short amount of time, and they only do it to one frame so I’m not sure what the whole process is supposed to achieve without the context of what the video footage is as a whole because they only Photoshopped ONE SINGLE FRAME!
They trick a police dispatcher using badly stitched together audio that invoked a little bit of laughter because it wouldn’t fool Ralph Wiggum from The Simpsons and the final straw, without spoiling anything, was the revelation of a twist that, while indeed putting things into perspective and explaining why the hell any of this has been happening, doesn’t actually make that much sense because it implies the baddies have been relying one helluva lot of blue moon luck this whole time. It really made me stop and rethink a bunch of stuff that had transpired along the way and if it was intended by the big bad to happen just like then WHAT? Are they magic, did the movie secretly keep the supernatural motif from the first film without telling us? I don’t know, I don’t think it made sense and the film could’ve done without pushing and straining itself that far.
So the movie gets 5/10 for the most obvious reason ever, it’s half a good film, half a bad film, it started strong, made good decisions and showed off some real understanding of how horror works, then it reaches the halfway point and goes completely off the rails, showing the threat too much, adding bombastic effects, characters start making really dumb decisions, the baddies make even DUMBER decisions that somehow WORK all the while relying on the luck of the universe to provide success to their plan and leaves one with a feeing of overall disappointment. I think it’s worth a look but be prepared for some disappointing foolishness as the second half kicks into gear.
Motion Picture Maniac