UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB

Producer: Timur Bekmambetov and Jason Blum
Director: Stephen Susco
Writer: Stephen Susco
Stars: Colin Woodell, Connor Del Rio, Andrew Lees, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Betty Gabriel, Chelsea Alden, Savira Windyani, Stephanie Nogueras and Alexa Mansour
Studio: BH Tilt

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Stephen Susco, who started his screenwriting career with the two “Grudge” movies, has taken on the task of concocting a sequel to the surprise 2015 success about a group of obnoxious chat-rooming teens who are killed one after another by some force that accuses them online of responsibility for the suicide of a classmate. “Dark Web” is a sequel in also being told via computer screens, but naturally it introduces a new bunch of gabbing victims, and offers a different explanation for their inevitable demises. The result is better than its predecessor, but that’s not hard; by any other standard it’s distinctly subpar.

It begins when Matias (Colin Woodell), a young fellow working on some sort of app, walks off with a laptop that he notices in the “lost and found” room of an internet café, though he claims to have bought it on Craigslist. It’s the device he uses to link up with his usual “game night” pals—voluble conspiracy nut AJ (Connor Del Rio), laid-back computer expert Damon (Andrew Lees), lovers Serena (Rebecca Rittenhouse) and Nari (Betty Gabriel), and DJ Lexx (Savira Windyani). Also on Matias’ radar is his current girlfriend, the deaf Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras), with whom he’s having a tiff over his failure to learn how to sign.

The vacuous conversation of the gamers is interrupted at Matias’ end by texts from the laptop’s owner accusing him of stealing it and demanding its return. In the process of arranging to do so, Mathias discovers that the computer has files that take him into the recesses of the dark web, where the owner is connected to a series of gruesome snuff films, as well as the recent abduction of a girl named Erica Dunne (Alexa Mansour). Matias and his friends get involved in trying to force the owner into releasing Erica.

Unfortunately, that brings the ire of the group distributing the snuff movies upon the whole bunch. The owner of the laptop attacks Amaya’s roommate Kelly (Chelsea Alden) and then threatens to kill Amaya unless Mathias follows his orders. Then Matias’ other game-playing pals are targeted for interfering with what appears to be a very lucrative underground business.

But that’s only how things appear; it turns out that the whole episode we’re watching is no accident, but a diabolical plot suitable for game night. Exactly what that means won’t be revealed here, but suffice it to say that the last act takes the story into territory that’s not only pretty incredible, but awfully implausible from a logical perspective.

As is usual in pictures like this, the acting is at best serviceable, and in some cases not even that; Del Rio is so annoying as the loudmouth AJ that you might find yourself wishing that he’d become the first victim. Woodell carries most of the load as the increasingly high-string Matias, and he’s okay. So is the production, which easily surpasses that of the original. Kevin Stuart’s cinematography is actually pretty good, especially considering the restrictions imposed by the computer-screen obsession; he and Susco make use of lots of split- and multiple-screen shots, and Andrew Wesman’s editing is fast-paced, obviously in the hope of obscuring the plot holes that erupt, especially in the last act. Curiously in a movie of this sort, the violence isn’t as graphic as expected; death sequences are fairly understated by genre standards, and the blood and gore is kept to a minimum. Fans of torture porn might feel a twinge of disappointment as a result.

“Unfriended” carries a message that might be beneficial to some sticky-fingered souls—don’t steal computers others absently-mindedly leave behind. Or if you do, resist the inclination to open the files on them. But whether getting that message is worth sitting through “Dark Web” is questionable. A better decision would be not only to skip the movie but to avoid wasting your time playing dumb games with your virtual friends online.