Monday, 30 July 2018

IN THEATRES: Unfriended - Dark Web

Obsessed with designing an app that will allow him to communicate with his girlfriend Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras), Matias (Colin Woodell) has stolen a laptop that will help him complete the project.

While online with a group of friends, he begins to burrow into his new machine, discovering a hidden cache of videos, and a link to an illegal online forum known as The River, where its mysterious denizens buy and sell their personal brands of pain and suffering. 

Soon, Mattias and his friends are drawn into a running battle with the laptop's original owner, and the other members of the mysterious cabal of psychopaths.

I had no idea that this movie was a sequel, and thankfully it will have no bearing on your viewing experience.

This movie has a premise which could come off as extremely contrived. We are forced to watch all the action on a computer screen, with individual windows for other characters and the important action to tackle place on. It is bleedingly obvious what is going on in terms of suspension of disbelief.

But I have to say, the filmmakers managed to pull it off. All of the acting is good, the character dynamics feel natural and are fun to track (One note about the cast: Somebody at Blumhouse needs to give Betty Gabriel an office. She has been in almost every single Blumhouse movie (The Purge: Election YearGet OutUpgrade and this) I have seen in the last two years). Throughout the movie we get interesting glimpses of their lives e.g. a marriage proposal leads to inferred discord with a homophobic family; one character's mother interrupts the main characters' through line to badger her out of the 'game'.

Dark Web is a nu-age spin on a sub-genre I love - the locked room thriller. Like Rear Window, Narrow Margin and Road Games, we are trapped in a single location, but one that becomes a contained world with a small community of characters. While the main story is incredibly tense, I really enjoyed the first half, which is basically a cyber-dramaedy, with Matthias's storyline offset by the character games of the rest of the cast. If this stuff was done poorly, or missing entirely, the silliness of the premise would be exposed.

But by spending so much time on Matthias, Amaya and his friends, it makes the whole thing more immersive.

Some of the scares are probably rote shocks that will lose impact on re-watch, but considering how much attention hacking has been given recently (particularly the recent story about Russian hackers attacking US utilities). Few films have successfully managed to make the internet scary, but Dark Web nails it. Of course, the movie goes to some ridiculous extremes by the end, but even some of those plot turns feel like they are not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

There is one sequence involving a SWAT team, which plays upon the militarisation of American police. And while it is a popcorn flick, the movie does have some meat.

Like A Quiet Place, this movie includes a subplot involving a disabled character - Matias's girlfriend Amaya, played by Stephanie Nogueras - where the focus is not their disability, but rather the non-disabled characters' inability to overcome their own ableism. The movie's plot ultimately hinges on their relationship, and his unwillingness to meet her halfway. As the reviewer on Film School Rejects notes, he stole the laptop so he could finish working on a programme to help him understand her, rather than trying to learn her language - and hence, gaining a knowledge of her culture that will strengthen their bond. This is a throwaway horror movie, but I am impressed by how two genre movies have been able to create storylines about disabled characters that do not fit the usual ableist stereotypes.

There is little real violence, but the filmmakers deliver some absolutely horrific plot reveals in the final stretch. There is one sequence in which a character is forced to choose between saving two loved ones - we do not see anything explicit, but thanks to the investment the filmmakers have made in these characters, this action still feels like a violation.

Is Dark Web a masterpiece? No, but it is a really good movie. It is a fun genre piece with interesting characters and exploits its premise to the full. It may lose some sense in the final reel but that just adds to the fun.

After watching so many Blumhouse movies over the last couple of years, I think it has reconnected me with the kind of low-budget sci-fi/horror movies that I grew up loving. They may not have the violence or the slight tang of unsavoury nastiness that 70s and 80s genre flicks have, but I think Blumhouse have been around for so long, and have been so consistent in their approach, that they have staked out their own uniquer place in the pop culture zeitgeist.

As a collection of films, ideas and filmmakers, there is no brand like Blumhouse around, and no filmmaking unit that I look forward to more. In 20 years, I can guarantee that your average film and genre fan will look back on this period, and Blumhouse in particular, with the same excitement and obsessiveness as my generation do the films of Amicus, Troma, New World and Cannon.


The Purge: Anarchy

The Purge: Election Year

Get Out

Happy Death Day


The First Purge

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