In an interview with SyFy earlier this year, director Stephen Susco said that when he was approached with the idea of making Unfriended: Dark Web, his response was, “Oh God, I can’t do a sequel to (Unfriended). This movie was great! It was so singular, how do you sequelize that?” As it turns out, his answer was to barely make a sequel at all, producing a follow-up that is disconnected from the original in just about every way. Unfortunately, it’s also a major step down.
Susco made a key decision early on that instantly sets this film apart from the first: the decision to strip away any sort of paranormal activity and make the villains normal human beings this time. Whereas the original Unfriended saw its characters being haunted by a ghost, Laura Barnes, in this film, Matias accidentally stumbles upon a society of hackers after logging onto a used laptop.
Ultimately, I found this decision to be unsatisfying for a number of reasons. One of those is just a personal one in that I generally find paranormal-based horror to be far more terrifying than normal human horror; the idea of being confronted with otherworldly forces that I can’t even fathom, as opposed to earthly forces that are squarely within the realm of possibility, is a lot scarier to me. But I recognize that this is just my own taste and not something the movie can really be faulted with.
What’s a bigger issue is that despite the fact that the villains in this film are supposed to be grounded and human, they still sort of behave as if they’re paranormal. The original Unfriended so effectively established the rules of how this technology worked and then messed with us by breaking those rules, and because Blaire’s laptop was supposed to be in the control of a literal ghost, we could buy all of the wacky technological shenanigans like the “unfriend” button magically disappearing on Facebook.
But in Dark Web, the depiction of technology is completely ridiculous, and the movie gives the hackers an absolutely ludicrous set of “powers,” with the worst instance of that being the main villain’s ability to type in Amaya’s Facebook chat and have it show up in black, only to delete itself seconds later. Again, this might be fine if it was supposed to be the work of some sort of supernatural force, but we’re supposed to buy into the fact that it’s an actual person doing this. Why is the human villain of Dark Web actually able to accomplish more with the computer than a literal ghost in the original film?
Plus, whenever the villain appears on camera, for no reason that is explained, he’s constantly “glitching out.” At one point, he talks using some sort of program intended to modify his voice, and it just comes across as goofy, not too far from the way hackers are depicted on shows like NCIS and Law & Order. At just about every turn, the use of technology in Dark Web made me laugh at the film rather than with it, as I found it so consistently amusing how much insanity the film thinks it can get away with just by suggesting “hackers be hacking.”
This isn’t an issue just because any sort of unrealistic plot points in movies are automatically bad; I understand the necessity to suspend one’s disbelief, and I’d hate to turn my entire critique into a list of ways Dark Web broke from reality. But the reason this disappointed me is that the first film used realistic technology so well, and the way it messed around with aspects of the computer world that we’re all familiar with is part of what I loved about it. In Dark Web, there are no rules because the hackers can just do whatever they want all the time, and nothing that happens is particularly relatable as a result.
Speaking of which, Dark Web really doesn’t have many inventive gags like the original; the closest it comes to having one is sort of just a retread of the lag scare from the first film. In the end, this movie seems to have a lot more in common with The Den than it does to the original Unfriended, right down to an extremely similar ending.
Dark Web certainly isn’t a terrible movie. The performances are surprisingly good, as they were in the original film, and I found myself invested enough in the plot and characters that I was never bored. But ultimately, in my eyes, it fails due to the choice to not more clearly define a set of rules and instead play around with a much faster and looser depiction of technology. But then again, perhaps the success of the original Unfriended just could never be repeated, and Susco’s original assessment that it couldn’t be sequelized was, unfortunately, right on.