PLOT A stolen laptop leads a group of friends into a deadly cyberworld.
CAST Colin Woodell, Stephanie Nogueras, Connor Del Rio
RATED R (some disturbing violence)
BOTTOM LINE Some effective scares, but this sequel lacks the freshness and humor of the 2015 original.
The computer-screen horror film hasn’t taken off quite like the found-footage subgenre — so far, the “Unfriended” franchise has pretty much cornered the market. The first film was a fairly clever body-count flick that unfolded entirely on the screen of a terrified girl’s laptop. The second, “Unfriended: Dark Web,” in which a stolen MacBook becomes the portal to a creepy corner of the internet, is less successful.
The thief in “Dark Web” is Matias (Colin Woodell), an otherwise good-hearted guy who needed a faster machine to build a sign-language program for his girlfriend, Amaya (Stephanie Nogueras), who is deaf. Their relationship is on the rocks, though, and Matias seems distracted during game night with a group of friends via Skype (some are far away, some merely lazy).
Meanwhile, a mysterious figure nicknamed Charon contacts Matias to demand his laptop back. Charon is part of a secret society, The River, that commissions snuff videos with cryptocurrency, and he steadily homes in on Matias and his innocent friends. Though much of this cat-and-mouse game centers on uncinematic lists of file-folders and root directories, it builds a fair degree of tension. A chilling moment comes when Charon manifests in the real world as a faceless black shadow.
Since the first “Unfriended,” culture has changed more than technology has, and that’s reflected in the diverse cast of characters. Matias’ crew includes Lexx (Savira Windyani), a snarky music producer; Damon (Andrew Lees), a British hacker/programmer; and a budding Alex Jones type named, ahem, A.J. (Connor Del Rio), who runs a conspiracy-theory podcast out of his mom’s basement. As in the first film, the group has slots for two attractive fashionistas, only this time they’re a couple (Rebecca Rittenhouse and Betty Gabriel, both rather good).
What hampers the scares and shivers is the overly complicated screenplay by new writer-director Stephen Susco (“The Grudge”). Matias survives using really tricky social media settings, which produce less-than-pulse-pounding results; the narrative also wanders far afield into life-or-death games and themes of online voyeurism. One small but important criticism: The film occasionally cheats, selectively enlarging portions of Matias’ screen for added effect.
“Dark Web” deserves credit for pushing a limited concept about as far as it can go. Like the first film, it might be a spookier experience if viewed on your own laptop.