[Screen It]


(2018) (Colin Woodell, Stephanie Nogueras) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: A group of friends must contend with increasing dangers after one of them logs into a computer connected to unsavory behavior on the Internet's dark web.
Matias (COLIN WOODELL) is a young man who's looking forward to game night with his friends -- Damon (ANDREW LEES), Lexx (SAVIRA WINDYANI), AJ (CONNOR DEL RIO), and Nari (BETTY GABRIEL) and Serena (REBECCA RITTENHOUSE) who've recently gotten engage -- playing Cards Against Humanity. Likely not joining them is Amaya (STEPHANIE NOGUERAS), Matias' deaf girlfriend who's upset with him for not trying harder to learn sign language to better communicate with her.

He's using a laptop he says he bought on Craigslist, but as he's communicating with his friends via Skype and Amaya through Facebook messenger, he starts getting messages seemingly intended for the previous owner. That soon leads to him opening a folder of videos that show not only a variety of surveillance cameras that have been hacked into, but also a number of far more disturbing ones showing young women who've been kidnapped, tortured and killed.

Things become even dicier when one of those kidnappers, known only as Charon 68, contacts Matias and informs him that if he doesn't return that laptop or informs Amaya, he'll kill her and will do the same if any of his friends disconnect or contact the police. From that point on, the small group of friends tries to figure out who's responsible and how to save Amaya from a fate that begins to affect them as well.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
I've often wondered how those in Hollywood view the ever-changing viewing habits of young people. Not that long ago, teens and twenty-somethings enjoyed going to the theater to escape from the real world and watch things unfold on the big screen. Nowadays, many of them are just as happy watching movies on their phones, which typically are not overly generous when it comes to square footage (make that inchage).

Thus, the sweeping cinematography, expensive special effects and more -- intended for movie theater viewing -- end up getting lost on such small screens. And if there are too many characters or other elements in any given shot, or if a split-screen device is used, such younger viewers are going to be squinting or doing a lot of pinching and zooming to see what's occurring.

That came to my mind while watching "Unfriended: Dark Web," the sequel to 2014's "Unfriended." It's been labeled as a "standalone" follow-up since it doesn't stem from the story found in the original film and instead utilizes something of a similar setup where everything that occurs and can be seen (by those in theaters and later those watching on their phones) does so on the laptop screen of the protagonist, Matias (Colin Woodell).

In the first flick, a group of unlikable youngsters found themselves harassed by the spirit of a young woman who took her own life and decided to terrorize them via social media. Here, and for better or worse depending on how you like your suspense served up, the spirit has been replaced by anonymous folks operating in the so-called "dark web."

You would think that by making that switch, director Stephen Susco -- working from his own script -- would deliver more believable results. But the reverse actually occurs as the more the mostly unseen and anonymous people behind the scenes manipulate things, the more far-fetched they become.

All to the point that it actually ends up being silly rather than scary (a point driven home by laughter in our preview audience increasing as things played out over the nearly 90-minute runtime). During that time, we see that Matias has a "new" computer and while playing an online version of Cards Against Humanity with a small group of friends -- played by Rebecca Rittenhouse, Betty Gabriel, Andrew Lees, Savira Windyani and Connor Del Rio -- and trying to win back his deaf girlfriend (Stephanie Nogueras), he discovers a folder of some unsavory footage.

And then the "boogeyman" shows up in his girlfriend's apartment -- as something of an Internet apparition of sorts as the video feed gets blotchy and pixilated when he appears -- whacks the roommate over the head and carries her off, and warns Matias that if he tells the girlfriend or any of the friends disconnect or call the police the girlfriend will meet her demise.

Not surprisingly, it's the friends who first start getting picked off one by one. But the more the dark web folks manipulate things to make all of those deaths happen, almost all of the suspense evaporates. I will say you must be an active eye-scanning sort of viewer to watch this flick as (like the first time around) all sorts of computer-related windows, chat boxes and more are simultaneously open on the screen.

For a while that sort of works to keep the tension high, mainly because you don't know where you should be looking, a task that will be further complicated if you're watching on a tiny cell phone screen. Unfortunately, it, like the rest of the film, ultimately becomes a repetitive and tired gambit. Hopefully, if there's an "Unfriended 3," they'll bring the ghost(s) back. This "Dark Web" version rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed July 18, 2018 / Posted July 20, 2018

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