When you watch Unfriended: Dark Web, the movie screen becomes a laptop browser — specifically one being used by a guy named Matias (played by Colin Woodell). Matias starts off with some pretty innocent activities, some filling the screen simultaneously — creating a sign-language app for his girlfriend Amaya, playing tunes on Spotify, checking Facebook, and Skype-chatting with a group of friends during their weekly "game night."
The only trouble is, this isn't Matias' computer — and the original owner is someone who would kill to keep its secrets. Woodell chatted with SYFY WIRE about the cast bonding by playing games together, the backstory he created for Matias, and which friend has the best death scene.
On the first day of rehearsals, the director brought all the actors together, and then left you alone for three hours. What happened?
I don't know if Stephen did that intentionally! [Laughs] I don't know if he was trying to lock the kids in a room and see what happens! But that was a great tactic, if that was his master plan, because it was literally the first day and none of us knew each other. I had met Stephanie [Nogueras, who plays Amaya], because I had a chemistry reading with her, and I knew Andy, [Lees, who plays Damon] because we had both worked on The Originals, so we had some familiarity with each other, but for the most part, none of us knew anything about each other.
I think being thrust into it that way, without our leader helping us and holding our hands, was so crucial, because there was no real time to dance around and break the ice here and there. It was like that feeling when you've procrastinated way too long, and now all of a sudden you have a task at hand? It kind of felt like that. And there was just this one game in the room, and it was one of the more confusing games that you could learn, which was Settlers of Catan. Are you familiar with it?
No. Tell me about it!
[Laughs] That's the thing. I don't even know if I can describe it. So basically, you settle these islands. You collect wood, wheat, and I forget what the other things are, and then you trade. You build these ports, and whoever gets 12 points first, or something like that, wins the game. So it's very tactical, and very confusing, and only one of us knew how to play it, and he had to instruct all of us how to do it. So it was this collaborative process of all of us learning this really difficult thing. I think Stephen knew that, too. I think he chose a difficult game intentionally, because it wasn't Cards Against Humanity, which ended up being in the film. It was a character-builder for all us, to struggle with something.
But he was full of surprises like that. One day, he said, "We're going to take off a couple hours early today, and go to an escape room!" And we were like, "What? Okay. That is definitely not part of the film, but sure." And it was one of the more difficult ones in Los Angeles. It was tough. It has a very low success rate, and we actually did not succeed in getting out. Just like our story! [Laughs] It's all about teamwork: "You do this part. I'll get this clue." The whole idea was just to build trust with each other as an ensemble, which was crucial for the film, because it is a pretty horrific story, but one of the things that made it touching in some ways is the relationship between Matias and all of his friends. And it was great to learn the escape room with Stephanie, who plays Amaya, who is deaf, and trying to work that out, and what's needed in terms of communication with her.
Were you playing the game and doing the escape room in character?
We rehearsed for five days before we filmed anything, so we had five days to do a script breakdown and character work, and then the escape room came in the midst of us filming. I think it was the third day of filming, and we filmed like five to eight days total. So it was this sprint, and it was really draining and exhausting, but also a lot of adrenaline, and the escape room was the perfect way to expel some of it and get it out of our systems. And it was all character-driven.
So you were building backstories?
Yeah. And mine was a little more restricted, because the film is through Matias' point of view, and whatever I wanted to create, I had to kind of check in with Stephen first and make sure that was okay, for the most part, for anything that I came up with, in terms of where my parents are, what's happened to me, why I am financially in flux, why do I need to create an app... One of the things that really irritated me about Matias is that he hasn't learned sign language. I kind of had to ask Stephen, "You got to give me a reason why this guy didn't put in more of an effort to do that." And Matias is a little disconnected, in terms of what his role is as a boyfriend, and he thought creating an app to translate sign language was a more useful thing, a more meaningful gesture to Amaya than actually learning sign language. That kind of stuff, I had to actually remove myself from, and communicate with Stephen, in terms of backstory and why I was doing the things I do.
Did you talk about what Matias' username (mattyfastwheelz) means to him?
Sure, yeah. And I kind of channeled one of my best friends from school who has been a cyclist his whole life. He's one of the few people I know who gets around Los Angeles on a bike, and has never owned a car. Matias is a guy who is a biker, he's a bike messenger, and that's sort of how he's made his living. And he's a nomad of sorts. He moved to this city in the movie – this kind of undisclosed city that we don't really identify but sort of slowly turn into Los Angeles — and lived in an area that was sort of cheap, and it was college housing. And that's how he met this group of kids, who are all his age, who are all in school, and he kind of pretended that he was in this world with them. Kind of a Talented Mr. Ripley of sorts, but with good intentions. He just had no friends. And he slowly became friends with this group, and then they graduated, and life steered them all in different directions, but they all kept in touch.
The idea of him being on a bike was really helpful for me, because it is such a crazy thing to do in a big city, to be on a bike at all times. You're all alone, and surrounded by danger in a weird way, and I think that's kind of what the story is. So that was the backstory in terms of where Matias comes from before the film starts. And when he comes upon the laptop, it's something he's noticed sitting in a cybercafé for weeks. He's not a thief, he's not a bad guy, but it's been in lost and found for weeks, and no one is claiming it. It's a nice computer, and he doesn't have nice things, and it's an opportunity for him to create this app that he's really, really excited about, to salvage his relationship with Amaya.
I like that. That helps me understand why he would take the laptop.
That wasn't actually in the original script, and that's why I was frustrated at first, because I was like, "We can't root for this guy, or any of these guys, if this kid just stole a laptop." But we ended up painted him more clearly with reshoots. I did eight different reshoots over the last two years, so I've been kind of working on this thing sporadically for a while. We had a lot of cooks in the kitchen with Blumhouse, Bazelevs, and Universal, so there were a lot of opinions weighing in about what Matias was doing and why, and eventually, we finally found it, but in the beginning, he was kind of getting what he deserved.
Did any of the reshoots affect the ending? Because originally, Matias and Amaya were going to survive.
Yeah, that was the original thing Stephen wanted to do, and that got shot down right away. [Laughs] The reshoots were more so for all the technical components. When Stephen and our editor, Andrew Wesman, were piecing it together, they were like, "Oh, this will not work, unless we give an explanation as to why." Because they were using footage like, "If Serena raises her phone, we can do this at the 80-minute mark." It was a puzzle they were piecing together. And the ending was kind of up in the air since the beginning of filming. That was also the case with the first Unfriended film. They really had no idea how to give a good ending to the story at first, because there are so many options when you have this computer screen.
Since Matias is watching his friends die one by one, did you have a favorite death scene? (Without giving too much away, of course.)
Yeah. [Laughs] I think AJ's was the coolest one, and the most clever, with the sound effects. That one was so excruciating to watch, too, because he takes off his headphones, he can't hear us anymore, and we're just yelling into the abyss. That's what you feel as an audience member, watching a thriller or horror film — that constant yearning, that wish to communicate to the character to not go in that direction. Watching him go down like that was definitely heartbreaking. [Laughs] "No, no, no! Don't do that!"