Another harsh rule to adopt in 2018: When you receive a call for game night, hang the hell up. Get together and something sinister will join the fun, too.
Whereas it’s henchmen in masks in February, this month it’s murderous men in hoodies. “Charons,” they are called, and yes, that’s a reference to the ferryman of Grecian myth who carries the living to Hades. Why so ominous? For starters, they populate “The River,” a program linking to the internet’s dark web, and they are there to make personalized snuff films. Think cyber Vacancy. As with its predecessor, Unfriended: Dark Web’s online evil is contacted after a bad deed has been committed, which in this case is the purchase of a Macbook off-good grief-Craigslist. The buyer, 20-something Matias (Colin Woodell), has no clue that the device is a Charon’s property, and his ignorance soon grows into an invite for the former owner, and The River, to literally hack him and five other friends — conspiracy theorist Aj (Connor Del Rio), Lexx the DJ (Savira Windyani), recently engaged couple Nari (Betty Gabriel) and Serena (Rebecca Rittenhouse), and U.K.-based tech whiz Damon (Andrew Lees). Cards Against Humanity, or the game these folks are playing via Skype conference, has never been deadlier!
Greek-myth borrowings, pixelated appearance and ghostly web usage (messages written can be instantly erased) aside, Dark Web’s villainy is not of the supernatural. Nevertheless, the grounding of the terror is far from detrimental. A Charon is there when they are there, and so we are spared from facing armada after armada of menacing notifications, convenient bufferings and/or audio cutouts. There’s also a whiff of emotion in our engagement with the screen-on-screen as the concept of ShadierNet™ and whatever unsavories hosted there are visitable. While filmmakers frequently knocking on the affected-by-cybercrime door (Open Windows and The Den), there is still enough mystery surrounding this very palpable realm. In a way, any film about the dark web is a safe access to the dark web, so here’s your chance to dive in and mute the internet ethics.
Terror is only a partial file in Dark Web, so calibrate accordingly. Under the direction of Stephen Susco, who also wrote the film, tension is more prevalent than fear, yet even then it doesn’t consistently ring true. Other than a fatal swatting sequence (real chills encountered here, incidents like it are needlessly common) plus a moment of signal-dependent strategizing, the film codes zilch surprises into the unfriending business. Is there a misnomer, too, since the Charons equate a character’s death as a “ban”? A couple of times the Charons are visibly empowered by the plot, too, gifted with the ability to max out the audio at illogical times to give us a scare and upset the magic of the One Screen™ feature.
Character-wise, all members of this bunch have mercifully cooler heads and overall better acting abilities. Still, the struggle to care for them remains real when they keep on proving to be fireflies to the most abysmal of choices or, for some, too paper-thin to invest in. Some are removed from the game too early, a move that validates concerns about underdevelopment or the beginning of a new — and too close to tolerate — horror trope. However, Blumhouse productions lately seem to be embracing inclusivity; presence of ASL in Matias’ girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras) and the normalcy at the core of Nari-Serena’s relationship are good additions, and an upgrade to Happy Death Day’s student body.
A Charon is also revealed to be Vietnamese. #represent, and now to figure out whether to use “!” or “?”
While being seen is nice, Dark Web still falls short. This is a frustrating experience where, like the internet at your favorite coffee joint, it’s a recurring cycle of an agreeable element trailing one that’s not so, all the way to the end. Susco sets the project well, but the coding warrants adjustments. It’s no disaster, whether you log on to where the Charons are at this moment through the big screen or some months from now through your laptops.