Everything that scares old people about technology.
The first Unfriended film was a bag of hot cat barf, so when I heard a sequel was in the works I ignored it. However, after seeing a preview for this new one we gave it a shot, and it really isn’t bad.
The supernatural garbage from the first film is completely gone. I actually didn’t see any connection to the first film aside from the name, which does make me wonder why they bothered with the connection at all. People who liked the first one might not like the change, and I am willing to bet a lot of folks are skipping this one due to the title. Seems like an odd decision to me.
The film is told entirely through computer screens and webcams. We join in with a group of friends who are linking up over Skype for a game night. There are a handful of characters, each has their own quirks, but none are developed well. One thing I must say is that the characters are not terrible—they all struck me as more or less real folks. I saw some similarities (albeit exaggerated) with people I know. Whatever criticisms follow, this film should be applauded for making the characters not a bunch of dipshits who we are excited to see die.
The plot is fairly straightforward, Matias (Colin Woodell) steals a laptop that had been left in a lost and found for weeks only to find out it has a bunch of snuff films on it. The computer belongs to a Charon, or a nameless dark web agent who kidnaps and tortures women for money. They take the internet group hostage by threatening Matias’ deaf girlfriend (who is not in the group chat) and now Matias and co. must find a way out of this technological trap.
I actually think the plot is interesting, and the film does a lot of things right, but it also does a lot of things wrong. The film can be broken into three sections. The first, our character introductions lets us get to know these folks, but it takes way too long for anything to happen. Too much time is spent just watching people mess around with Cards Against Humanity or watching Matias stress about the troubles he is having in his relationship. I found myself fairly bored only about fifteen minutes in due to the slowness.
The film does recover in the second segment, where we actually get some accurate information about hacking and the dark web and all of that. I think the dark web is quite overblown in popular culture, so I was happy to see it be more grounded. The tension is slower here, and while Matias makes some odd decisions, the film works along here. It is unfortunate that the middle works and the beginning doesn’t because a rough start is hard to recover from.
The middle of the film also touches on important issues within internet security, particularly privacy. There is a creep to the film during these moments because it is all so plausible. We also get a fairly unblinking look at swatting, and this is a rising issue that will likely be a major legal debate in coming years. These moments work very well, and the slower and deliberate tension makes for entertaining film.
Then, the third section… We end up with a bit of spectacle creep. The scenario gets too big too fast and without enough explanation. I found my suspension of disbelief tested more and more as the film goes from unlikely but chilling to logically impossible given the short amount of time. The narrative also becomes absurdly easy to nitpick, as small mistakes or leaps in logic begin to add up it all starts to feel a little silly. The scope simply gets too big for it to have a lasting aftertaste when the credits roll.
Oddly, despite thinking about 2/3 of the film doesn’t work, I didn’t hate it. I found myself saying “not bad” when describing it, but I might go a little farther. There are some annoying things, particularly the terrible distortion when a Charon speaks, or the inconsistent volume, but these don’t destroy the experience. I think this is interesting film, and it gives a sense of “what would I do” as you watch, and this is something more horror movies could use.
In a rarity, the sequel is better than the first. I saw give it a shot, I think most will find something to like. 6/10