In the annals of absurd action films that dominated the public’s awareness during the 80s, “The Wraith” may hold special distinction as the silliest of them all. How else would one describe the very idea of this film? Could it be done with a straight face, or some semblance of seriousness? Here is a premise that seems as if it were pulled right out of farce: a gang of car thieves murder a man, and then said victim is reincarnated from above so that he can exact his revenge by, well, racing them all to their deaths inside a mysterious black car. But wait, it gets better: when he is not inside said vehicle, he appears as an enigmatic drifter played by Charlie Sheen, who comes into town and interacts will all the same people who were once part of his previous life, including those who killed him. How do they not recognize him? Because, rather conveniently, his face has been changed. Furthermore, none of those observers suspect who he really is, although chance encounters eventually create enough of a sense of déjà vu to inspire all the obligatory inquiries (“have we met before?”). If you’re still paying attention, congratulate yourself: you may have actually thought more thoroughly about this setup than Mike Marvin, whose screenplay might as well have been assembled out of remnants of shorthand notes from an etch-a-sketch.
No single idea in the found footage horror subgenre has been as inconclusive as that of the one first observed in “Unfriended.” Consider the concept: for 83 minutes, characters remain static in a world of pixelated webcam images and cluttered desktop screens while a malevolent force somewhere in their chat boxes taunts them. Gradually, they are ambushed by something outside the periphery of the Skype window, until a lone person is left to answer for crimes that all present may have once participated in. Is this an idea full of potential, or one where the gimmick is destined to fade from novelty after the initial experience has worn off? Our fascination was certainly enough to inspire a single sit-through of the first attempt, although that movie sees little in the way of ongoing value; once the ploy is understood, the antics play like a wind-up toy instead of a plausible tool to modulate tension, especially in repeat viewings. Yet here we are again for a sequel, titled “Dark Web,” which utilizes the exact same format and implores the spontaneous hysteria of the same sorts of young actors, who balance their running commentary with all the perfunctory inquiries – like, “what’s that noise?” or “please don’t hurt me!” The irony of most new approaches in horror is how thoroughly familiar all the tricks seem, even as they are repackaged to avoid more obvious giveaways.