Saturday, August 11, 2018

Unfriended: Dark Web – slow-burn, non-horror turkey is a timely reminder about electronic surveillance and computer security (from 10 August)

Unfriended: Dark Web joins a group of friends for game night. Unable to meet face-to-face, they instead play Cards Against Humanity over Skype. In real time we watch the screen of Matias’ new computer which he ‘came across’ that day. He flicks between a Facetime Messenger video call with his deaf girlfriend and the rest of the gang.

As the evening unfolds, Matias gets help to unlock hidden files on the laptop and after 40 or so minutes of meaningless malarkey, a dark and sinister plot comes to light that threatens the circle of friends as an unseen man tries desperately to recover his property.

Colin Woodell plays the permanently flustered protagonist, Matias, who is juggling a lack of computing power with his attempts to avoid learning Americal Sign Language to properly communicate with his increasingly disenfranchised lip-reading girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras).

The character development of the games night participants – cute couple Nari (Betty Gabriel) and Serena (Rebecca Rittenhouse), DJ Lexx (Savira Windyani), IT geek Damon (Andrew Lees) and AJ (Connor Del Rio) – plays second fiddle to the murky plot, and their backstory and reasons for friendship are never fully explored.

While it’s laudable for writer and first-time director Stephen Susco to experiment to see if the found footage genre could be expanded to include computer-based material, he has not made a horror film. While momentary licence is taken at key plot points by adding deep and subtle sound effects that are external to the otherwise sterile soundscape, the filmmakers struggle to build any tension and do not intimidate their audience with scares. The on-screen events are clearly frightening for the fictional characters, but my stomach certainly didn’t lurch in sympathy as the glitchy villain invaded the gamers’ privacy.

The 16:9 aspect ratio works well and supports the dramaturgical niftiness that keeps the focus on particular characters during the main five-way Skype call between the friends. The use of commands in the Skype chat window is relatively realistic, though the IP address beginning ‘617.___’ is a forced technical error that should have been spotted.

Overall, Unfriended: Dark Web is a poor demonstration of the horrors that may lie in corners of the actual dark web. While there have already been a few cinematic turkeys this year, this definitely makes the list with its slow burn brand of non-horror, only rescued by a mercifully short 92 minute runtime and a nice mention of ‘covfefe’.

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