I rented Unfriended through Redbox and saw it with a date, and I'll give it kudos that we did not turn it off and even talked about it afterward. I can't in all good faith call it a good film, but it was the first of its kind that I had seen and I merely tolerated it. Unfortunately it fell into a lot of issues that start and end with the characters/actors, and the teeny-bopper horror elements that leave you laughing and eye-rolling almost as if they intentionally wrote and directed it that way made it extremely mediocre, forgettable, and worst of all passable. What seemed like it was serving its style as nothing more than a cheap gimmick, I easily would only rate it a 4/10, but I was on board as I watched it and it did not turn me away from seeing a sequel.
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I didn't know anything about this sequel going into it, never mind the fact that I didn't even know it was a film until yesterday evening. But when the pre-screening invite fell into my lap, I bit the bullet and hoped for the best even though I planned for the worst. Needless to say, this was a pleasant surprise. Before I go on, I'm going to admit that this is probably getting an extra star or two just for the surprise factor alone (kicks this up to a 6.5 and rounding it up to 7). I'm also going to strongly advise that you avoid the trailer at all costs for four reasons:
1) It spoils a lot of events (though leaves out the main overall plot of the film, which was nice).
2) It misinforms the audience of what kind of film it is (treats it like a pure horror when it is more of a thriller/suspense flick).
3) It edits a lot of items on the screencast that do not occur in a similar way in the actual movie, even down to colors and sound effects that are used.
4) It makes it look really bad.
I saw the trailer AFTER seeing the film by the way, and I'm glad that I did. I would have passed up this pre-screening if I saw that horrible trailer, and I would've felt like I've seen the entire film if so as well (yes, it does reveal several plot points).
I totally understand why this film has the 'Unfriended' tag: it's a found footage screencasting film where an anonymous user intrudes a Skype group chat, and torments them as a result of their mishaps bestowed onto said user. This is where the premise similarities end, though. This isn't only not a story continuation of the first film in any way (you can watch this without watching that and you won't lose a single beat), but this also does not have a supernatural element, and although Facebook may be one of the applications in the film it has nothing to do with unfriending somebody through it. Granted, I understand the name can take on multiple meanings in which case I can easily find one for it through this film, and if it just had the title The Dark Web, people would hark on it for being "too similar to Unfriended," so they were stuck. This can either help or hurt the film because I know a lot of people who won't see this on the name alone, but you may be mistaken by passing it up.
As I said before, this isn't bogged down with anything supernatural. That's not to say it's the most realistic thing in the world either, but if you suspend enough disbelief you can feel that it has a lot more grounding to it. This is the first plus. There's nothing wrong with supernatural horror flicks, but the first film holds a strong stigma around Facebook that it just couldn't be taken seriously. At least they did it better than Friend Request, but that's still not saying much. This circumvents that completely. Everything involved is through the power of individuals, all of which seem to be very computer-savvy, but making that decision won me over significantly more. I'd say it teeters more toward the suspense/thriller genre than it does the horror genre, and for this that can only be a good thing. Just don't expect anything scary so to speak, though there are a couple of disturbing ideas that only strengthened the film's mystique.
This also had some clever writing. Compared to the original, it's just nice to know that there was some actual thought into telling this story and not just throwing it out the window. The way the plot develops may leave you very curious as to how some items are slowly discovered, and some small nuggets (as well as character traits) throughout the film play a larger part by the time the credits roll in a fascinating way. Can't say I didn't like how things went down, but what's interesting to me is that halfway through watching it you could have predicted a million ways they should have done the back-end, and even if you ultimately feel they didn't go the route you may want it's still ahead of the other film on potential and wonder alone.
Unfriended: Dark Web grabbed me pretty fast with the relationship between two of the central characters. I cared enough about the situation to be concerned for their well-being. I can't necessarily say the same for the other characters. One was a little annoying but you grew into the personality, two were kind of bland (but one outshined the other both with acting and backstory), one was wasted entirely to the point that I wanted more from that one than any of the others, and one was compelling but served the plot exposition and advancement so well you could nearly call out "Deus ex machina!" at times, as that character also has no development. Everything in the Skype chat kind of worked out though because the "main" character (the screen we're watching all the time) mutes them or goes to different windows for long times on end when the others didn't need to serve a larger purpose for said moment. Neither the film nor the characters were that funny either, but the film didn't try to be funny too often either; wasn't laughing with them, but thankfully I also wasn't ever really laughing AT them. The first film had laughable characters that were unlikable to the point that I couldn't wait to watch them be killed.
Those who read my reviews know that I like to be vague so you can enjoy the film for yourself without still really knowing anything about this film, so that is where I'll leave you regarding content. Most of what I mentioned was the good stuff, and some of the lesser things in the film for me lie in parts that would probably spoil too much. I have some other small quibbles like off-screen characters type and respond unrealistically fast, though I understand they need to keep the pace up at the same time. Even still, I'd say they still make some decisions in the sequel that make me think they didn't learn everything from making the original, but they definitely self-corrected so much, probably more so than going from Annabelle to Creation or from Ouija to Origin of Evil. I also found the halfway point to allow it to go into multiple directions, and although the route they chose wasn't my absolute favorite I'm not about to sit here and petition that a rewrite be in order either.
This film also did one more thing for me: it made me realize that the found footage screencasting sub-genre is one that can actually work and be used more and more. It is very inexpensive and tailors perfectly to our generation around the social media realm. I thought it was far too gimmicky in the first film, but then I saw the film Searching and found how it could be used correctly... and just a short two weeks later I can clearly say that in the right hands there is enough creativity there to do more and more things. That being said, I liked Searching more as a film but I can't say that I would have liked it as much as I do if I saw it AFTER seeing Dark Web. I think the novelty of the filming style meshed so well with the story and really grabbed me, and this was entertaining enough overall that I didn't care I was seeing this style again. I think seeing it in the other order might exhaust me to see Searching second. So, here goes: I recommend you see both films, but if possible I recommend you see Searching first to get the best bang for your buck. Unfortunately it releases in a few weeks while this releases just next week.
Do as you must, but ultimately I suggest you give this one a crack and you may leave as surprised as I was.