Unfriended: Dark Web review: Voyeuristic, nasty but very clever fare

This may be an exploitation movie but it’s an ingeniously made one with a highly original storytelling style

Geoffrey Macnab
Thursday 09 August 2018 10:19
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Unfriended - Trailer

Dir Stephen Susco, 93 mins, starring: Colin Woodell, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Chelsea Alden, Betty Gabriel, Andrew Lees, Stephanie Nogueras

Unfriended – Dark Web is the latest in the series of “Screenlife” films produced by Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov in which the action unfolds (and is filmed) on computer screens, smart phones or other digital devices. Also produced by Jason Blum (of Get Out and The Purge fame), this is voyeuristic, nasty but very clever fare.

Charismatic young slacker type Matias (Colin Woodall) is delighted to have procured a new (stolen) MacBook. By a process of elimination and guesswork, he works out the password. In strangely compelling scenes, we see him trying to log in. It’s “games night”, which is when he and his friends play online together.

He is also busy trying to charm his deaf girlfriend, Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras). What he doesn’t realise is that there is a folder on the stolen computer full of torture and snuff videos. That’s one reason the computer’s owner wants it back. Another is the cryptocurrency hidden in an account accessed through the computer.

Writer-director Stephen Susco has a nice line in macabre humour. This is a movie in which computer glitches – software programmes quitting unexpectedly, wifi connections being lost, Skype calls being interrupted – only adds to the tension.

Matias and his friends are a little arrogant and very confident in their own computing and hacking skills. The idea that an outsider is playing them for fools doesn’t even occur.

The film captures the way dramatic events in its characters’ lives are always experienced at a remove, through the filter of social media feeds. For most of the film, Matias barely moves from his desk but we see him experience the full gamut of emotions, from lust to anger, from joy to abject terror, because of what he is hearing and seeing on his laptop screen.

The hacker whose computer he has taken goes under the name of Charon – that’s to say, the name of the ferryman in Greek mythology who takes the dead to Hades. Hell is where Matias and his friends will be headed too unless they can work out how to keep themselves and their devices safe.

Unfriended – Dark Web is convincingly acted by its young cast in performances made to look as if recorded entirely on their computers’ in-built cameras. (A cinematographer, Kevin Stewart, is listed in the credits – so some artistic license has presumably been taken.) Sometimes, the actors are seen in close up. Sometimes, they’re all on screen at once, in little boxes.

Just as they are looking in on each others’ lives, we are peering into their world. The film has a grim plot line involving kidnapped and tortured teenagers and a shadowy group which enjoys watching their suffering. This may be an exploitation movie but it’s an ingeniously made one with a highly original storytelling style which reflects perfectly the screen-dominated lives and leisure habits of its young protagonists.

Unfriended: Dark Web hits UK cinemas 10 August.

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