Is social media having a moment at the cinema? No, not the person sat next to you who insists on checking their phone during the movie, but the internet itself with all its permutations. For something that’s become such an integral part of our everyday lives, its dramatic potential hasn’t really been fully explored or exploited by film makers. But this month sees a minor flurry. At the end of August comes Searching, with devoted family man John Cho trying to find his missing teenage daughter by hacking into her laptop.
For now, though, we have Unfriended:Dark Web, the sequel to Unfriended, one of 2014’s surprise critical and commercial hits. That meant a sequel was always on the cards and, like the original, the action takes place on a computer screen, with a clutch of characters being bumped off one by one. After that, the similarities grind to a halt.
The clutch of new faces drafted in for this second installment are headed by Matias (Colin Woodell) who’s acquired a new laptop. He discovered it in the lost ‘n’ found at his favourite cyber cafe and it’s much faster than his old one, perfect for working on a new programme to help improve communication with his deaf girlfriend, Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras). But this is no ordinary laptop: it already has an owner, one who wants it back because it houses a hard drive full of grim secrets and access to the dark web. And, because Matias and his friends work this out, they have to die.
As sequels go, this is vastly inferior, lacking the thrills and shocks you hope for. So much so that, for a horror, it’s in severe danger of contravening the Trade Description Act. Watching the characters in miniature on the computer screen and their messages to each other in even smaller type keeps you permanently at arms’ length from what are, in truth, not especially likeable characters. You don’t care what happens to them. Even when they meet a nasty end.
Worse still, when stripped of its tech, this is essentially a very routine murder thriller, but without those all-essential thrills. Matias and his mates are being bumped off because they’ve got their hands on some very dodgy information that belongs to somebody else. Full stop. End of. But the makers have decided to include a damsel in distress, Amaya, and the fact that she’s deaf is supposed to increase our fear for her. Even though she’s played by Stephanie Nogueras, who is profoundly deaf, there’s an unmistakable whiff of exploitation surrounding her. It’s distasteful and it’s fooling nobody.
That “found footage” style which started with The Blair Witch Project (1999) gets another outing and, coupled with the action taking place through one laptop screen, the result is – and looks – cheap. Those who enjoyed Unfriended are in for a disappointment and horror fans in general will feel much the same. The one thing they won’t feel is scared. If anything, they’ll probably end up with an unpleasant taste in their mouths, because there’s a constant underlying note of old-fashioned nastiness. There’s no humour, no style, no fun to relieve it. Ultimately, it’s a desperately tedious way to spend an hour and a half. Definitely not one to “like”.
Freda Cooper | [rating=1]
Horror, Thriller | 15 | UK, 10 August (2018) | Universal Pictures | Dir. Stephen Susco| Colin Woodell, Stephanie Nogueras, Chelsea Alden, Andrew Lees, Connor del Rio, Rebecca Rittenhouse and Betty Gabriel.