Unfriended: Dark Web ★★½


Cinematic universes are all the rage these days, despite the fact that Marvel is the only studio that has truly cracked how to successfully translate the daunting challenges of such long-term pop storytelling into box-office billions (and modest critical acclaim). The impulse has even filtered down into sub-blockbuster genres like horror, as exemplified by New Line Cinema’s dubious 'Conjuring' series, which now comprises four feature films and counting. It’s easy to see how the built-in audience of a sprawling franchise – more expansive and carefully integrated than the iterative 'Fridays' and 'Nightmares' of the past – might appeal to a horror studio. The genre tends to be a low-risk, high-return endeavor, where even a critical dud can turn a profit in its first weekend thanks to compulsive genre enthusiasts and adolescent multiplex patrons.

All due credit to Blumhouse Productions, then: Given the ripe opportunity to launch yet another unwanted series alongside its 'Insidious', 'The Purge', and 'Paranormal Activity' franchises, the horror studio opted for something much more intriguing than a mere “shared universe” with its sequel to 2014’s surprisingly effective 'Unfriended'. The new film, rather vacantly titled 'Unfriended: The Dark Web', isn’t a narrative sequel at all, but rather a repurposing of the first feature’s irresistible formal conceit. A standalone story that – like its predecessor – unfolds almost entirely on a single MacBook laptop screen, 'Dark Web' isn’t even in the same subgenre as the 2014 film. Where 'Unfriended' was a vengeful ghost story with a digital angle, the sequel is a paranoid techno-thriller with gaudy horror highlights...

Read on at the Lens: