Starring Shawn C. Phillips, Tony Newton, Josh Schultz, Sarah Schultz, Julie Anne Prescott, Dane Keil, and Rheanon Nicole
Written by Tony Newton and Josh Schultz
Directed by Tony Newton and Josh Schultz
We’re all trapped inside of the hellscape of Covid-19 and if there’s anything this year has shown us, it’s that whenever you assume things could not get worse, they can and do. In the entertainment industry, films have been pushed back or canceled; the steady output we love to see year after year isn’t as steady due to this existence and it’s just an odd time in general.
That said, quarantine has also caused filmmakers to think outside the box and create films that utilize the fact that we’re all trapped inside our surroundings. Films like Shudder’s Host brought forth the possibilities of what you can do while in quarantine and the upcoming Adam Mason-helmed Songbird is bringing A-list stars into a Michael Bay-produced take on the Covid-era cellphone approach. Scaling things back to the indie world, the Tony Newton/Josh Schultz-helmed Dark Web: Mystery Box anthology is another example of taking a bad situation and turning it around into something creative.
Taking multiple storylines and injecting them into the same plot, Dark Web follows a group of YouTube personalities, each having received a mystery package with no instructions aside from a VHS tape to play. Whether supernatural or human danger lies ahead of them varies from person to person, an approach that actually works for the film.
Flirting with the dark web is a danger in itself, so utilizing that real-life scare in a film is an interesting one. Five or ten minutes into the film, you find yourself forgetting that you’re watching a feature; it feels like you’re browsing YouTube and stumbling onto the videos we find ourselves watching from time to time. Coolduder himself, Shawn C. Phillips does his energetic self, beginning with a review of his DVD/Blu-ray collection before giving the VHS tape a watch. And when that happens, Phillips really shines in camp glory, going off on the video in a way that is quite comical. Josh and Sarah Schultz, known to YouTube watchers as the Haunted Honeymooners get the video and opt-out of watching it for a while, before Sarah decides to give it a chance, leading to an ominous conclusion. We’re also given multiple other personalities, all opening the Pandora’s box-like VHS tape, with varying outcomes.
The premise of Dark Web: Mystery Box is an interesting one and when it works, it really works. The film does drag from time to time, with each segment’s build-up spending too much time on small talk and, to be honest, it makes sense. A lot of YouTube videos tend to ramble on, so the authenticity is there; the issue is, that when it’s on YouTube, that’s fine, but in a feature, you want to be as concise as possible, or else you risk losing your audience. It’s not enough to make its viewer tap out, but Dark Web could easily have benefited from a trim here and there, to make things move along a bit faster.
Producer/director Tony Newton is a highlight of the film, his Tonez personality takes you through various occult-like artifacts, creating a fascinating tone to his segment, something that’s actually presented in the film quite well. Each segment stands on its own, and it excels when the human aspects of the danger stand out.
Though it could use a bit of a trim, Dark Web: Mystery Box is a good example of what can be done with minimal resources but a hefty amount of imagination and that good ol’ “get it done” mentality. It’s a rough, scrappy little film that will not be for everyone, but I enjoyed this one and would recommend giving it a watch.
Though not without its faults, Dark Web: Mystery Box shows that being stuck inside during quarantine doesn’t have to stop creativity. It’s an entertaining watch to say the least.