Unfriended: Dark Web. 2018. Directed & Written by Stephen Susco.
Starring Colin Woodell, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Chelsea Alden, Stephanie Nogueras, Alexa Mansour, Savira Windyani, Connor Del Rio, Douglas Tait, & Rob Welsh.
Universal Pictures/Bazelevs Production/Blumhouse Productions
Rated R. 92 minutes.
If you didn’t enjoy Unfriended there’s a big chance you’re not going to dig Unfriended: Dark Web either. Two very different movies, though their DNA’s stranded in much the same way. Whereas there was a supernatural quality to the first movie, the sequel instead dives into terrifying humanity. As the title suggests, the focus is the dark web’s unrestricted access, and how this presents itself as a good thing – freedom! – but its limitlessness is a double-edged sword that can cut us all.
Dark Web starts with a college student named Matias (Colin Woodell, currently starring in The Purge on TV) who bought a new laptop. He finds the thing’s been left with its passwords and files intact. Over webcam for game night, he and his friends try having fun until they’re interrupted by a sinister presence. Because Matias didn’t buy the laptop off Craigslist like he claimed. He stole it from a lost and found. Now the owner wants it back, and he’ll do anything to get it.
Invasion(s) of privacy and a loss of control in a digital age are major themes. As a huge believer in an open internet, Father Gore had to second guess some of his liberal ideology after considering the actual possibilities in this particular story. Postmodern horror’s able to tackle things directly affecting us today. Social media, webcams, and all the ways in which our bodies and minds are wrapped up in the digital world, they present horrific problems we’re not ready to deal with yet. Technology allows the infiltration of our most private spaces. The dark web allows access to an unlimited freedom by, essentially, giving up all privacy— if you’re not prepared. Like anything, when one goes into something serious unprepared there are consequences.
Dark Web acts as a cautionary tale of all the ways in which an unregulated web can become the tool of our own destruction. We get privacy from the state and its Big Brother institutions, only to sacrifice our relative anonymity to the evil entities lurking out there.
“… divides the world of the living from the world of the dead.”
The dark web’s a Wild West-like space where anything goes and there’s no real protection. An enter at your own risk place. Accessing certain websites and links can put you in danger without even doing anything. Full freedom comes only at a dangerous price. Facebook and Twitter may be selling our private info – an awful component of capitalism – but those finding our info on the dark web are looking to do much worse. The “sharks” v. “Leviathans” analogy given by AJ (Connor Del Rio) is a perfect one, seeing as how Leviathan brings Hell and the Bible into the story.
Director-writer Stephen Susco’s screenplay utilises several references to symbolise a crossing of the divide between the regular internet and dark web, from order into chaos, presented as similar to the division between Heaven and Hell. First is the secretive program, the River, and the faceless hitmen all named Charon, who’s the “ferryman of Hades” in Greek mythology. Charon turns up all over the place in classic literature, such as Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, another work referenced. Inferno comes into play with the nefarious group behind all the online terror, The Circle, in reference to the Nine Circles of Hell. The most interesting reference here originates from the Bible: Psalm 42:7. When Matias inputs a password for the Circle, he types: “Abyssus abyssum invocat.” This Latin corresponds to Psalm 42: 7, translating roughly to “deep calleth unto deep,” or in other translations “hell calls upon hell.” In a sense it’s a call for communion, here subverted into unholiness.
Newer technologies are coming out all the time. We’re never ready for them, though we wait anxiously on their development. Our ethics haven’t caught up to these advancements, and may never catch up, considering technology advances at an exponential rate each year. With the advent of these technologies come worse invasions of privacy. Today, we’re allowing untold numbers of people into our homes through our webcams, never knowing who could turn it on to have a peek— who might have already.
These fears are reflected in the nasty things Matias discovers on the stolen laptop, as he stumbles onto an untitled hidden folder filled with surveillance cameras, private webcam videos, and other anonymous invasions of the private sphere. The scariest examples are found in the unfolding of the plot, the worst of which involve the manipulations of Matias’s friends AJ and Serena (Rebecca Rittenhouse).
AJ is a paranoid YouTuber who hates the system. He preaches privacy for the individual. In one rant to his friends he foreshadows some of his friends deaths: “They‘re gonna come in from right up behind you when you don‘t even see it coming…” His chief concern is the repressive state apparatus (RSA), which includes the police and other institutions that use direct, sometimes physical means of repressing people, and coerce the middle class into conformity to law/order/etc. And in the end, the RSA are manipulated by the Circle into killing AJ, using the chilling reach of technology to edit clips and make AJ look like a mass shooter.
Just as his death’s brought about by the scary extensions of technology, so is the death of Serena. In this era, not only is an invasion of privacy enabled through the dark web in conjunction with technology, an invasion of the body’s capable, too. We live in a post-human world where our literal lives can hang by a thread of electronic wiring (i.e. life support). Serena’s given a 21st-century Sophie’s Choice, in which her mother – hooked up to life support systems in hospital – is fatally implicated. This may be the cruellest of all the Circle’s manipulations, an unnerving illustration of how our lives are inextricably linked to technology, to the point it can literally kill us— also serves as a great overall metaphor for the way technology’s presented in the story/its plots, stressing the desperate ways we rely on all of post-modernity’s creations.
Nothing subtle about Unfriended: Dark Web, and that’s just fine. Sometimes there isn’t a necessity for subtlety. Our post-modern age has given way to numerous horrors that people couldn’t have anticipated 50 years ago, unless we’re talking about speculative science fiction authors who, in fact, did see much of this coming. Only natural these terrible situations find themselves reflected in our fiction.
Others might find this less enjoyable. Father Gore feels it does the job it sets out to do. If people weren’t into the supernatural vibe of the original movie, perhaps the sequel’s choice to centre around real life possibilities will appeal more to them. This has a couple great actors (Goodell and Betty Gabriel are both pretty awesome) to anchor the eerie action, and the tension, at times, will have you clenching fists, knowing awful things are about to occur. Give this a shot. Infinitely scary if you’re a tech-obsessed person who knows how disturbing the internet can become when you plunge into its dark corners.