Sunday, August 5, 2018

It Came From The Cineplex: Unfriended: Dark Web

Sigh... Once again I'm falling woefully behind on my movie reviews again here at Bob Canada's BlogWorld. Therefore in a desperate attempt to catch up, I'm posting a very short analysis of this filmI don't have much to say about this particular movie anyway, so there's no point in devoting 50,000 words to it. So sit back and enjoy this Micro Review

Unfriended: Dark Web was written and directed by Stephen Susco.

Susco previously wrote such classics as The GrudgeThe Grudge 2RedHigh SchoolTexas Chainsaw 3D and Beyond The ReachUnfriended: Dark Web is his directorial debut.

Blumhouse Studios earned a good deal of praise last year with the release of well-received films such as Split, The Belko Experiment and Get Out (which won a goddamned Oscar®!). Unfortunately they're taking all that good will and flushing it straight down the sh*tter with films like Blumhouse's Truth Or Dare and Unfriended: Dark Web. Way to tarnish your brand, guys! You can't coast on Get Out's success forever!

As you might have guessed, Unfriended: Dark Web is a followup to 2014's UnfriendedFull disclosure: I never saw the original film, so I was worried that I might have missed some vital details of the rich and complex Unfriended Cinematic Universe, and wouldn't be able to follow the sequel's densely plotted storyline.

I needn't have worried. Unfriended: Dark Web is a sequel in name only, as it shares none of the same characters, plotlines or concepts as the original. The only similarity between the two is the filming style.

As long time readers of my blog (both of you) know, I am NOT a fan of found footage films. The genre originated with Cannibal Holocaust in 1980, but it wasn't until 1999 that it really exploded with The Blair Witch Project.

The technique is fine when used sparingly, but studios insist on pumping out such films by the dozen. Unfortunately each subsequent found footage film has been met with audience disinterest and ever-diminishing box office returns. At this point it's pretty much a dead genre.

Unfriended: Dark Web (and its predecessor) try to put a new spin on the found footage movie, resulting in something even worseRather than a movie that was allegedly shot by the characters, the Unfriended films take place entirely on a single computer screen! It's a whole new "Desktop Movie" sub-genre!

Watching this film is literally like looking over someone's shoulder while they operate a computer or play a videogame. And just as frustrating! In fact when this film was finally over, it didn't seem like I'd watched a movie at all. Instead it felt like I'd been at work, staring at my screen for eight hours.

Amazingly Unfriended: Dark Web is one of THREE "desktop movies" to be released in 2018. The first was Profile, which premiered in February, and Searching is scheduled to come out in August. Weird.

The original Unfriended featured a supernatural element, as the ghost of a tormented teenaged girl who committed suicide returns to kill those who wronged her. Unfriended: Dark Web veers off in a completely different direction, ditching all the horror elements. 

This time the action is set firmly in the real world, as a band of millennials uncover some shady activity online, and are systematically murdered (oops, spoiler alert!) by a group of psychotic hackers.

I guess it's supposed to be a cautionary tale, warning us of the dangers of the information superhighway. That theme was very prevalent back in the late 1990s when the net was brand new and the general public didn't quite understand it. In 2018 though, not so much. The internet's become a crucial part of all our lives, and it's just not as scary as it once seemed.

Unfriended: Dark Web isn't a terrible movie, as it actually features some interesting concepts and a few decent performances. The problem lies in the execution. If it'd been shot as a normal narrative it could have been a decent little thriller. But having the action unfold on a single computer screen results in a deadly dull film experience.

Amazingly, the original Unfriended grossed an astonishing $64 million worldwide, against its minute $1 million budget! Unbelievable!

So far Unfriended: Dark Web isn't doing nearly as well, as it's grossed just $8 million against its minuscule $1 million budget. While that may not seem like much in these days of billion dollar blockbusters, it still made back its money and turned a decent profit!

THIS is why studios like low budget horror films— no matter how terrible they are, they always make money!


The Plot:

Keep in mind that the following happens ENTIRELY on one computer screen.

A young man named Matias is happy that he's finally got a brand new laptop, one fast enough to run the software he's created to help him communicate online better with his deaf girlfriend Amaya (I guess simply typing messages to one another like a common peasant is out of the question?).

Matias Skypes to Amaya, excitedly showing her the new software, which he calls Papaya. She's strangely disinterested by it and signs off. Just then Matias starts getting angry text messages from someone calling themselves "Norah C," as we realize he didn't actually buy the laptop, but stole it. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen!

Matias then joins the rest of his friends on Skype for their weekly game night. His pals consist of Damon, a computer whiz who lives in England, A.J., a hipster conspiracy theorist, Lexx, a female musician and Serena and Nari, a lesbian couple. He tells the gang about his "new" computer, and they congratulate him on his purchase.

The group plays Cards Against Humanity, while Matias tries to call Amaya back. He becomes frustrated when his "new" computer keeps crashing, and asks Damon what to do. He says it sounds like the hard drive's full, so Matias pokes around and finds a secret folder containing gigabytes of video files.

Matias mentions the folder, and his friends realize his computer isn't new and accuse him of stealing it. He insists that wasn't the case, as it was sitting in the Lost & Found at the cyber cafe where he works, and he took it home after no one claimed it. 

Matias receives a message meant for Norah C, from someone named "Charon68." Matias pretends to be Norah and answers the message, and is funneled to a message board called "The River." Matias' friends somehow see this as well, and A.J. says The River is part of the Dark Web (we have a title!).

Charon68 asks about payment for a video. Curious, Matias opens several of the hidden video files on the laptop, and discovers they're all scenes of real-life torture. Apparently there's a group of psychos out there who abduct young women, film them being tortured and then sell the videos to the highest bidder. 

Damon realizes that "Norah C" is "Charon" spelled backward, and is the name of the fetish group. Serena and Nari realize they've stumbled onto something they weren't meant to see, and insist on calling the police. 

Matias privately Skypes Amaya to make sure she's safe, but gets her roommate Kelly instead. Matias is horrified when he sees a shadowy figure appear behind Kelly and drag her away. A hooded figure, whose face is obscured by video glitches and artifacts, appears onscreen and says he's Charon IV. He demands Matias return the laptop immediately, or he'll kill Amaya. He also warns him against calling the police.

Matias returns to the group chat and tells the girls not to call the cops, as the whole thing was a game he made up. The others are incensed at him, but also relieved. Amaya calls Matias, and he convinces her to come to his apartment for her own safety.

Charon IV pesters Matias about the laptop again, upping his threats. Matias retaliates by transferring all of Charon's cryptocurrency into his own account, telling the hacker he'll get it back after Amaya arrives safely at his place. Smart, if dangerous.

Matias is then contacted by The Circle the leaders of the Charons. They demand he knock off his shenanigans pronto, or they're be trouble. In order to show him they mean business, they demonstrate their power.

Just then the others then notice that Lexx is missing from her chat screen. A new window then pops up on their screen, showing Lexx standing on the roof of a building, for some reason. A glitchy figure appears behind her and shoves her off the roof to her death.

Matias and the others are horrified by what they've just seen. Nari secretly sneaks off to contact the police. This angers The Circle, so they take various audio files of A.J. and edit them together to make it sound like he's gonna shoot up a shopping mall. The police then burst into his basement and blow him away.

Serana then sees two windows pop up on her computer. One features Nari standing on a subway platform, and the other her terminally ill mother in her hospital bed. A Charon starts a countdown and demands she choose which one will live. When she refuses to choose, the Charons make the decision for her, shoving Nari in front of an oncoming subway train, and pulling the plug on Serena's mother. A Charon then shows up behind Serena in her home and kills her. 

Amaya exits the subway and heads toward Matias' place. Damon tells Matias to get out of his house and intercept Amaya. Matias jumps on his bike with the laptop in hand and rides off. He tells The Circle that Damon's working to copy everything from the laptop to send to the authorities.

Damon tells Matias that the Charons planted the laptop in the cafe, meaning for someone to find it and become involved with the Dark Web. Just then a Charon invades his apartment and hangs him to death. 

The Charons then use their editing skills to frame Matias, making it look like he's the abductor in one of the torture videos, in order to ruin his life.

Meanwhile, the Charons trick Amaya into thinking Matias wants to meet her inside an abandoned factory (sure, why not?). She's then attacked by a Charon and dragged away to be tortured.

Broken and defeated, Matias sits on his bike in the middle of a dark and isolated street. Gosh, I wonder what'll happen next? He asks the Charons why they're doing this, and they reveal the whole thing was a game regularly run by The Circle. 

A window pops up on the laptop, asking the Charons to vote on Matias' fate. The vote is overwhelmingly for his death, and he's instantly run over by a van. The camera pulls back to reveal Charon IV sitting in front of a laptop, as we realize the entire "movie" we just watched took place all on his screen.

NOTE: This movie actually features two different endings, which were randomly distributed to various cineplexes. In the second ending, Matias tells Amaya to go to their favorite hiking spot, where he first told her he loved her.

Matias gets to the spot first, and sees a large hole's been dug in the ground, and there's a casket lying in it. He's then knocked out and tossed into the casket.

Amaya arrives sometime later, after the hole's been filled in. She calls Matias' phone, and it rings underground, inside the casket. He desperately calls to her, but being deaf, she can't hear him. He tries to text her, but the Charons alter his messages to "I wish I could sign better." He then tries to video chat, but the Charons pixelate his mouth, so she can't read his lips. 

Eventually Amaya gets pissed at him and walks off, leaving Matias to suffocate underground.

• The term "Dark Web" conjures up images of a shady, mysterious second internet, located somewhere deep below the one we all know and love. Sadly, that's nowhere near the truth. The Dark Web is nothing more than a series of sites that are invisible to mainstream search engines like Google, and can only be accessed by special software. That's all there is to it!

• Credit where it's due: Hats off to Stephen Susco for taking this sequel in a completely different direction, instead of simply rehashing the plot of the first film. Congrats as well for writing a film in which the characters act somewhat intelligently for the most part, and don't do anything overtly stupid just to advance the plot.

• Get used to the image above, because the whole film looks exactly like this. Nothin' but window after window after window popping up on a dull, drab computer screen. I wonder if they even bothered to hire a cinematographer for this film?

Speaking of cinematography, Unfriended: Dark Web may go down in film history as the ugliest movie ever made. Every single character is filmed by a low res webcam and lit by the nothing but the electronic glow of their computer screens. This results in everyone looking haggard and ghastly, as every tiny flaw is enhanced by the harsh, subpar lighting. 

Kudos to the actors for allowing themselves to be filmed this way! I sure wouldn't want my poorly-lit face to be blown up to fifty feet tall the way theirs were!

• This is most definitely a movie for the computer savvy. If you don't have at least a passing familiarity with computers and the internet, you will be completely lost ten seconds into the film. God forbid my parents ever try to watch it, as they would have absolutely no idea what the hell was happening.

• The film was originally titled Unfriended: Game Night, but was changed at the last minute. Probably a good idea, since an actual movie called Game Night came out earlier this year.

• I'll bet a good portion of the film's budget went toward buying the rights to use actual websites and applications, such as Facebook, Skype, Spotify and of course, Google. That couldn't have been cheap!

I'm glad they did it though, so we didn't get a movie filled with sites like Friendbook, Swipe and Gaggle! That would have been awful.

• Matias' girlfriend Amaya is deaf, so he develops a piece of software that translates his speech into sign language, so she can understand him better. She's strangely unimpressed by his hard work though, and spends the whole film acting distant and aloof toward him. Almost to the point where you wonder what the hell he sees in her.

Eventually she explains herself, saying Matias' app makes it easy for her to understand him, but not for him to understand her. Whaaaa...? I don't get it. Can she not just speak to him? Or is she mute as well? If so, can't she just type what she wants to say to him when they're Skyping? It feels like some half-baked writing here.

Also, writing a program that translates spoken words into video clips of American Sign Language is a pretty impressive achievement. If Matias has the skills and know-how to do that, why the hell is he working as a barista in a cyber cafe?

• By the way, Amaya is played by actress Stephanie Nogueras, who's actually deaf in real life. Thank the Christ Baby Jesus! Now we won't have to hear the whining and bleating of the SJW crowd that a studio had the unmitigated gall to cast an able-bodied actor in the role of an impaired person!

• Nari is played by actress Betty Gabriel (not Betty Grable), who's easily the most recognizable member of the cast. She was in The Purge: Election Year, Get Out and Upgrade. She's also appeared in several episodes of HBO's Westworld series.

• Those Charons are quite the talented hackers. They can access and control literally everything that happens on the internet or a computer screen. They can even mask their identity by somehow causing their faces to be covered with static and video artifacts whenever they appear on a webcam!

They're also quite theatrical. Whenever Matias gets a message in his chat window, it's accompanied by a musical tone that rises at the end. When the Charons message him though, they alter this tone to a descending tone in a minor key, so it sounds ominous and sinister.

They also delete all their text bubbles by causing them to vibrate for a second before disappearing! As I said, pretty theatrical of them.

• The movie takes a sudden and disturbing turn when Matias opens the files on his stolen laptop, which turn out to be torture porn videos. This detour comes completely out of nowhere, and stops the film in its tracks. Up to that point it had just been a mediocre tech thriller, but after that it just became nasty and unpleasant. I wanted to go home and take a long hot shower after it was over.

• Words You'll Learn From Watching Unfriended: Dark Web: Trephination. It's the process of drilling a hole in one's skull, usually to relieve pressure on the brain. The Charons use it as part of their torture though, for some reason.

• Near the end of the movie, one of the Charons' torture victims somehow escapes, and approaches the screen, asking for help. Somehow she sees herself on the webcam, and notices a cork sticking out of the middle of her forehead. Curious, she grabs the cork and pulls, revealing a large trephinated hole drilled into her skull. She then lets out a blood-curdling scream as she realizes what's happened to her.

That... that makes absolutely zero sense. How the hell could she not know she had a hole in her skull? It's unlikely she'd have been unconscious when it was drilled, because the Charons' M.O. is torture. It's no fun torturing an unconscious victim who's oblivious to pain.

OK, let's say she was conscious when they started drilling, and she quickly passed out from the pain and her mind made her forget about it. There's still a goddamned cork sticking out of her forehead! Surely to hell she'd have felt THAT!

• As mentioned in the plot synopsis, for some odd reason Unfriended: Dark Web features 2, count 'em two different endings, distributed randomly to cineplexes. For the record, my theater got the "Matias Gets Run Over By A Van" ending, which seems like the lesser of the two.

I have no idea why they went with two endings here. Did the studio hope that when audiences found out, they'd hurry to another theater hoping to catch the other finale? Nice try, guys, but that ain't gonna happen. You're lucky you conned people into seeing this movie ONCE. There's no way anyone's gonna pay to see it a second time.

This isn't the first time a studio's used this gimmick. 1985's Clue had three alternate endings, each of which revealed a character as the killer. These endings were also randomly distributed to theaters.

2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine had three different end credits scenes, which again, were randomly distributed.

Eh, I dunno. I'm not a fan of this stunt. Seems to me that if a movie has three (or more) different endings, then none of them really matter. Pick one and go with it already.

Unfriended: Dark Web is a mediocre techno thriller that's worse than a found footage film, as the entire thing takes place on one computer screen. This results in a "movie" that's literally like looking over someone's shoulder as they futz around on their computer. The story's actually not terrible, and it could have been a decent little film without the annoying gimmick. As is though, it just comes off as dull. I give it a C.

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