I’m not a guy who’s ever been paranoid enough to tape over the camera on my laptop. But Unfriended: Dark Web literally freaked me out enough to make me order one of those sliding webcam covers.
Directed by Stephen Susco, Unfriended: Dark Web unfolds over the course of one horrible night. It opens with main character Matias setting up a new-to-him laptop, as the 20-something software developer puts in his own login info in the place of the previous owner’s. We soon learn that he’s in a fraught relationship with deaf girlfriend Amaya, who’s frustrated at how they communicate and his lack of effort in learning American Sign Language.
Their testy video chats are intercut with a raucous game night held over Skype with their mutual friends. As game night rolls on, Matty bounces between talking to Amaya, dodging Facebook messages coming to the laptop’s previous owner, and cleaning up the files on the secondhand computer. Things take a turn when some of those files turn out to be surreptitiously recorded videos of young women who later turned up missing. It comes to light that the laptop’s previous owner was part of a secret cabal of superhackers who trade cryptocurrencies to set up the gruesome deaths of complete strangers.
The cast’s performances sell their familiarity, fear, and panic extremely well. Lead actor Colin Woodell does engaging high-level emoting for almost all of the movie; it’s exhausting to watch him get more paranoid and nervous as the movie goes on. His tension becomes your own and you wonder if he’ll be able to escape the trap he bought into his home and his friends’ lives.
Dark Web feels like a movie that exists in response to the horror genre’s Cellphone Problem. Here, hyperconnectivity is the source of the terror, not the escape from it. It’s also a film that homes in on how pervasive computer use changes how we socialize. Both protagonists and antagonists juggle threats, violence, evasion, and strategies across multiple social media platforms, with the attendant new-message chimes serving as ominous portents. The only viewpoint the audience ever gets is through Matty’s computer screen. It’s a bold creative choice really makes the horror land more effectively, because it’s a position most people find themselves in every day.
Unfriended: Dark Web revolves around the idea that a window could pop up on your desktop that lets someone steal your love, money, or even your life. Its novel execution makes it stand apart from other horror flicks—and you’ll find yourselves looking suspiciously at every new friend request for a long time after seeing the movie.
Unfriended: Dark Web was shown at South by Southwest 2018 this past week and will be coming out in wide release later this year.