The Unfriended Series
Unfriended (February 5/16)
A surprisingly decent little horror film, Unfriended transpires entirely from the point of view of Blaire's (Shelley Hennig) laptop computer and follows the character as she and five Skyping friends slowly come to the realization that they're being haunted by a dead classmate. It's about as gimmicky a premise as one could envision and yet Unfriended, for the most part, comes off as a tight, fast-paced chiller, with filmmaker Levan Gabriadze effectively placing the movie's impressively well-developed characters into a scenario that grows more and more compelling as time progresses. It's clear, too, that the progressively engrossing atmosphere is heightened by the sporadic inclusion of creepy interludes, including a palpably tense segment in which a seemingly frozen screen turns out not to be quite so frozen after all. The computer-based POV does, however, ensure that Unfriended suffers from a handful of narrative lulls, with the less-than-consistent vibe compounded by relentlessly choppy Skype video that may be authentic but is also, from time to time, infuriating. The increasingly grim final stretch renders such deficiencies moot, however, and Unfriended ultimately is, silly final shot notwithstanding, one of the more impressive internet-based horror flicks to come around in some time.
Unfriended: Dark Web
A solid, thoroughly bleak sequel, Unfriended: Dark Web follows a group of friends as they assemble over Skype for a seemingly routine game night - with the evening taking a sinister turn after a mysterious, deadly hacker begins targeting the gang. First-time filmmaker Stephen Susco does a superb job of initially drawing the viewer into the sporadically engrossing proceedings, as Unfriended: Dark Web's first half is devoted to the affable exploits of the well-developed and increasingly sympathetic protagonists - with the movie benefiting substantially from the solid performances by, among others, Colin Woodell, Rebecca Rittenhouse, and Betty Gabriel. It's clear, too, that the picture's early success owes a lot to an undercurrent of promising (and palpable) malice, although it's just as apparent that once the picture's central conceit is revealed, Unfriended: Dark Web takes on a far more predictable (and almost conventional) feel that results in a palpable dissipation of tension (ie past a certain point, everything unfolds pretty much exactly as one might've anticipated). There's nevertheless little doubt that the film, which is ultimately more thriller than horror, manages to hold the viewer rapt right through to the expectedly grim finale, thus securing the movie's place as a seriously promising new franchise from the reliable folks at Blumhouse.