The internet is haunted! Ghouls are discussing the many horrifying things about the internet from cyberbullying, doxing, swatting, and more. They're covering Unfriended and Unfriended: Dark Web. Both films have some truly fun and creative deaths, each with its own unique villain. Tune in to learn just how important 2-factor authentication is!
Sources in this Episode: Unfriended: Dark Web wardrives straight into the bad-tech-film toilet
Media from this week's episode:
Unfriended (2014): A group of online chat room friends find themselves haunted by a mysterious, supernatural force using the account of their dead friend.
Director Levan Gabriadze
Unfriended Dark Web (2018): A teen comes into possession of a new laptop and soon discovers that the previous owner is not only watching him, but will also do anything to get it back.
Director Stephen Susco
Unfriended Series: The Real Horrors of the Internet, Cyberbullying and the Dark Web by Gabe Castro
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
In the first Unfriended, we follow a group of teens chatting online. This conversation and virtual hangout comes after the death of a fellow classmate. Throughout the film, we learn what led to the teen’s suicide as well as what part the teens we see had played in her fatal end. The entire film takes place on a computer screen. We get to glimpse the protagonist, Blaire’s virtual journey in it’s entirety. From private messages, Skype windows, her music playlists, what videos she’s watching, and her incredibly teen-inspired tabs (Forever21 and FreePeople, here we come!). What I really appreciate about this specific brand of found footage is the creativity. It can feel like a setup for failure at first, given how limited our point of view is, but each death was interesting and because we, like the characters, are confined to these small squares on a screen you can feel just as hopeless as they do.
What starts as a harmless group hang spirals into creative and disturbing deaths after an unknown person joins the call. This virtual ghost reeks havoc on them from beyond the grave and through a screen. These teens are no angels and their sins are put on display, secrets are revealed and the truth comes to light. As the ghost begins picking them off one by one, we are experiencing those frustrating tech glitches synonymous with every Skype experience, camera’s distorting, calls dropping, and audio not syncing. Blaire frantically googles what to do when a ghost contacts you through the internet while her friends meet their untimely demise. One girl unalives herself off camera, a young and irritating boy dies by blender (a scene that still haunts Kat), and another boy shoots himself though by then it is revealed that the ghost has full control of these characters.
In a scene I thoroughly enjoyed, she (the ghost, Laura) skillfully prints a message to Blaire and her friend, Adam. It’s been revealed that these two were having an affair or had slept with each other in the past. As her boyfriend, Mitch, struggles with Blaire’s infidelity and lies he urges them to reveal what the ghost sent them. Which they both insist they truly cannot. In a moment of pure panic, Blaire chooses Mitch over Adam and reveals her paper so he doesn’t leave the chat (resulting in his death). Adam immediately shoots himself as we read, “If you show this paper, Adam will die,” which allows us to infer that had Adam showed his paper, it’d be much the same about Blaire.
As absolutely messy as these teens were (as well as the plot), the deaths were fun. There were times where I was truly curious and stressed. One scene had a new caller join in the conversation, this time with their video on showing a room through a latticed item, such as a laundry basket or trash can. As the kids berate the silly ghost for leaving their camera on, they realize the VIDEO IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE. This, like so much of the movie is a fun albeit silly time. The film doesn’t try to have much in the way of reality or probability with it’s horror (other than the technical glitches) but I still enjoyed it for the campy scares.
Unfriended 2 takes the virtual horrors a step further by incorporating a more realistic monster. This film follows a new group of friends, this time adults, for their virtual game night. An activity that these days is normal but in 2018 would’ve been a bit unique. Our protagonist this time is Matias, a man with a new computer. He is “seen” re-entering his own passwords and bypassing the auto-fills on websites from the previous owner, Norah C. IV. Matias installs a new program he’s been working on that would allow him to better communicate with his girlfriend, who we learn is deaf. This program will translate his words into sign language using videos he’s recorded of him doing the signs. We learn that he acquired this computer online to better run this program, however the memory is overloaded and it runs glitchy. His tech-savvy friend tells him he needs to run a program to find excess files to delete. This is when Matias discovers some hidden files containing videos and information. As this is happening he is being inundated with pings on Facebook from Norah C’s “friends” and a woman named, Erica Dunne. Erica turns out to be a friend of Erica’s who’s using her account to communicate with the person who has stolen her computer, Matias.
While we learn about his theft, Matias’ friends question him about his lack of energy. One of the Facebook “friends” asks Matias if he could fulfill a request for an exchange of money. It appears Norah C has a lucrative business. After being pressed about this computer, Matias tells his friend that he’s uncovered some questionable files. They watch together via screenshare some of the very many videos on the drive. The videos seem harmless but unsettling at first, those of people in their homes. It appears someone has hacked people’s home cameras and his tech-savvy friend Damon explains, they can hack in and even shut off the light that indicates the camera is on so folx don’t even know this is happening. After looking at the last video, they see that a man has snuck into a young girl’s room, seemingly to show that he can and possibly to show off “merchandise.” The Facebook buyer requests a special event, that of “trephination” which Matias, thankfully, has to Google. It is a surgical procedure in which a circular piece of bone is drilled and excised, most commonly from the human skull. Truly terrifying and dark stuff.
Matias’ computer’s former owner, was a member of a dark organization on the dark web. He finds videos that hint at horrible things done to women, though he thankfully closes out of them before they become too much. In terror, the friends decide they need to alert the police.
We learn that Erica Dunne is not Norah C’s friend but rather, the lastest victim of this dark web group. This is when Matias learns that Norah C or rather, Charon IV knows where he is, is mad that he hasn’t returned the computer, and is going to kill his girlfriend. Things spiral out from there and the friends begin dropping like flies.
Unlike the spectral and unbelieving horrors of Unfriended, this film provides villains and deaths that however absurd aren’t entirely fantastical. The friends are attacked or strategically taken out by these elite hackers, dark web org folx. They don anti-surveillance gear which gives them a digitally spectral look on camera but they are incredibly real. The way they undo these humans was incredibly unique and scary in an entirely different way than the first one. Where that one had absurd gore, clever glitches, and distortion, this film has the true horrors of the internet, doxxing and hacking.
The Charons are able to locate each one of the friends, and they aren’t shy to reveal just how talented they are by screen sharing their hacks with the group. They watch as one Facebook post leads to an alma mater to a listserv on a University site and eventually to their friends home. One friend who is incredibly anti-social media and is seen in the beginning harping on the problems with surveillance, is notoriously off-grid. But given that he needs a platform to spout his mistrust of the government and the internet, he has a podcast (because of course he does!). The Charons then show the group various videos from his show, then slice up those videos to create a horrible message. This message is a threat to the government which they play on a phone call to 911, fully equipped with his address and name. They realize the call had been made awhile ago and the feds are at AJ’s door. As he walks with his hands up, shouting to the police that he will comply, the Charons hack his desktop and download a sound clip, one of a shotgun cocking. They turn up the volume as loud as it can go and let rip, resulting in the police (as trigger-happy as always) to absolutely lay into him. That is only one of the incredibly interesting and stressful deaths. One person is forced to choose between her sick mother or her new fiancé. While others are framed for the abduction of Erica Dunne. Turns out this isn’t only Game Night for this group of friends but also of these Dark Web Weirdos.
As someone who isn’t computer-savvy, I was impressed with this film. Whereas I find myself rolling my eyes during certain silly found-footage film techniques (as someone who works in film themselves), I couldn’t catch the flaws in this. Was it unbelievable at times? Certainly, for one - what hacking genius has an auto-fill option on their computer, especially for their bank!? But I had fun while also being quite worried, during the film.