A tip of the top hat to Stephen Susco, writer-director of the squirm-inducing horror sequel “Unfriended: Dark Web.”
He’s engineered a real-time Facebook-era tale of tech-savvy yet hapless young people hacked, tormented and terrorized when one of their number comes across a used computer with files, links and passwords that drag them all into “The Dark Web.”
Susco, who has “The Grudge” movies and “Texas Chainsaw 3D” in his writing credits, conjures up a thriller which we in essence follow as they type, link, etc. on a laptop screen, along with six friends whose Skype “game night” is hijacked when one of them shows up online with a new PC.
If it wasn’t such a pitiless mash-up of horrors from other movies, if he’d let us feel something for any of them, Susco would have had something special.
Matias, played by Colin Woodell of Steven Soderbergh’s “Unsane,” is a guy we meet via screen. All we see is what we’d see on his screen. He’s trying to log into this “new” laptop he got…”off Craigslist.” Password after password attempt.
He needs a PC with enough computing power to run this app he’s developing to help people look up American Sign Language in mid video-call conversations so that they can talk to the deaf — like his girlfriend, Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras).
Matias is a multi-tasking fool, quick to get into the laptop, log into Facebook, chat up Amaya, who is frustrated by his unwillingness to learn ASL, and jump online with his assorted friends to play Cards Against Humanity online.
If only he wasn’t being bombarded with all these messages for “Erica,” these notes from “Charon,” or “Norah.C.IV,” flirtatious catfishing messages from young women asking for plane tickets and wondering where “she” has been. If only the computer’s hard drive wasn’t eaten up with encrypted files he can’t delete.
We smell a rat before he does. And even after he does, after the “owner” of the PC has made contact, made threats (“THIEF!”) and started swallowing data from his circle of friends and contacts, he doesn’t tell those online with him.
DJ Lexx (Savira Windyani) is no help with his computer problems, nor are the loving couple Serana (Rebecca Rittenhouse) and Nari (Betty Gabriel). But paranoid web-master AJ (Connor Del Rio) and Brit wit Damon (Andrew Lees) talk him through a few tricks.
Which get him even deeper into trouble, which the women start to figure out.
“Dark Web” skates through every Internet pitfall from “phishing” (scamming data) to “wardrobing” (prowling neighborhoods, capturing wifi signals and passwords to break into computers) and “swatting” (faking a call to police to get a SWAT team, armed and trigger happy, to come to your door).
Tirades about “YOU’RE the product” websites like Facebook and Twitter, and “Cambridge Analytica” give the picture a topicality that sizzles.
Because whatever else is going wrong online, whoever this laptop belonged to was into sick, deadly and illegal stuff, pay-per-view perversions financed with Bitcoin payments.
Once the fascinating stuff about solving this or that problem with the screen and the incredibly boring split-screen “game night” nonsense is dispensed with, “Dark Web” takes on the same plot as the 2014 original “Unfriended.”
And as appealing, on the surface, as the various young “types” might be — that’s all they are, “types.” Computer dork, “smart” English accent, Indonesian dance music DJ, lesbians wrestling with “coming out” to difficult parents.
With all the cyber-nightmare elements Susco packs into the script and onto the split, data and image-filled computer screen we watch this on, everything from online, computer (and person) killing traps and sabotage, sign language, back doors and hacker lore, it’s a shame he didn’t care enough about the characters to make us care about them.
And it’s a wonder the horror masters at Blumhouse didn’t send him back for one last rewrite over this ending.
MPAA Rating: R for some disturbing violence, language and sexual references.
Cast: Rebecca Rittenhouse, Chelsea Alden, Betty Gabriel, Colin Woodell, Andrew Lees, Savira Windyani
Credits: Written and directed by Stephen Susco. A Blumhouse/OTL release.
Running time: 1:28