If 2015's "Unfriended
" acted as stinging tech-age commentary, a disturbing cautionary thriller about the toxicity of social media featuring a group of friends all guilty on some level in the cyberbullying of a classmate driven to suicide, "Unfriended: Dark Web" has substantially less on its mind while taking far greater leaps in logic. Save for perhaps a general anti-theft message, this is an emptily mean-spirited standalone sequel where nearly all of its characters are completely innocent, victims of circumstance rather than participants intrinsically muddied in the waters of the instigating event. It's a seemingly small but certainly impactful distinction; whereas the first film was sociologically provocative and complex even without its horror elements, this one could not survive as a straight drama. Take away the brutally nasty ends it has up its sleeve, and there wouldn't be a reason for its existence.
Matias (Colin Woodell) has brought home a used laptop. After successfully guessing the previous owner's login password, he gets to work uploading a sign-language program which will allow him to better communicate online with deaf girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras). When Matias makes the mistake of signing into previous user Norah C. IV's Facebook account, he is inundated with obscure messages inquiring about plane tickets and money transfers. As a game night over Skype begins between Matias and his palslongtime couple Serena (Rebecca Rittenhouse) and Nari (Betty Gabriel), conspiracy podcaster AJ (Connor Del Rio), deejay Lexx (Savira Windyani), and London-based Damon (Andrew Lees)he is contacted by someone who claims his or her computer has been stolen. Soon, the lot of themincluding an unaware Amayawill be thrust into a deadly game where not everything is as it seems, their assailant's most forbidding secrets lurking within the unGoogleable dark web.
"Unfriended: Dark Web" is a hollow, albeit technically well-crafted, vessel. Told completely via Matias' computer screen, this in-real-time potboilerlike its predecessor
is conceptually impressive and ably pulled off. By the very nature it was already done once before, however, its style is decidedly less novel. Making his directorial debut, Stephen Susco (writer of 2004's "The Grudge
" and 2006's "The Grudge 2
") shrewdly parses the details of his plot like breadcrumbs. It takes a while to fully grasp who our guide is and the circumstances surrounding his use of what is clearly someone else's laptop. Alas, the more we learn, the more convoluted, and then outright ridiculous, the proceedings become. If the first "Unfriended" ratcheted up palpable terror by narrowing in on the acidic dishonesty eating away at its characters and their relationships, this one has nowhere to take its participants as they are lined up and mercilessly dispatched in succession.
For a film as nasty as this one, "Unfriended: Dark Web" ought to make a more lasting impression than it does. It's involving much of the time, and the performances are without fault; Rebecca Rittenhouse is especially impressive as Serena, particularly during an emotionally raw scene where she is faced with an unthinkable choice. For a shocker based very specifically in the here and now, though, there is a discomfiting cynicism lingering beneath the surface of a bleak, twisty, finally silly narrative crying out for a deeper purpose. Sure, the web can be a dangerous place if one is not careful, but "Unfriended: Dark Web" simply doesn't offer enough to think about or cling to as it wallows in slickly designed but thematically shallow cruelty.