I decided to watch Dark Web: Cicada 3301 because I’m familiar with the main cast and I wanted to see Alan Ritchson’s debut as a film director. While I liked the puzzle-solving mystery aspect, I think the overall narrative could have been fleshed out a bit more.
I was provided with a free digital screener of Dark Web: Cicada 3301 for review. The opinions I have shared are my own.
For those who might not know, Cicada 3301 is a real thing. It’s a nickname for a mysterious organization believed to publish online puzzles to recruit intelligent people. Some think NSA, CIA, M16, etc., are behind it, while some have speculated it’s a non-government entity that wants to bring certain changes to the world. Ritchson’s Dark Web: Cicada 3301 (which he co-wrote with Joshua Montcalm) took the “Illuminati” route.
The premise deals with our lead character, Connor (Jack Kesy), finding the latest puzzle and trying to solve it with help from his two other smart people Avi (Ron Funches) and Gwen (Conor Leslie). Connor has also been contacted by a team of NSA agents (with Ritchson playing Agent Carver) to help take down whoever is behind Cicada 3301. The story is told by Connor as he stands trial to figure out what actually happened during his mission to unravel the truth about Cicada 3301.
One of the things I liked about the script is that it made it clear Connor’s an unreliable narrator. Yes, he and his friends worked together to solve the Cicada 3301 puzzles. However, Connor continued to add certain extra details that led to some comedic moments during his retelling. He’s not a fan of the NSA agents he’s been forced to work with.
Another thing I liked about this film is that it didn’t make Connor the sole smart person in the trio. Avi and Gwen brought their unique perspectives to decipher the clues. With Connor being a hacker, Avi’s into art and history while Gwen read a lot and had memorized a variety of information. I enjoyed the dynamic between the trio. With Avi and Connor being best friends, Gwen’s the new addition as they all solved tough puzzles while staying alive.
I wasn’t expecting this film to feature queer representation, but it did. Gwen’s a queer character while Avi’s shown as not being completely straight. I laughed during the scene where Avi’s tasked with distracting a queer male receptionist while Connor and Gwen break into the restricted part of a library. And, I think, the library guard’s queer, too. (Don’t miss the post-credits scene with the library guard and Agent Carver).
Being a comedy film, certain queer moments are used for laughs. But said comedy isn’t disrespectful or offensive, in my opinion. And that’s fortunate considering the type of vulgar humor in this R-rated film.
As for the narrative themes in Dark Web: Cicada 3301, I think it touched on some interesting topics about how society functions. There’s a tug-of-war between the government and shadowy organizations. A number of political groups want things to remain a certain way, even if it means people are expected to act like sheep. So, can you blame mysterious cyber groups wanting to change things and wanting people to know what’s really happening?
Connor’s traumatic childhood helped give his character some layers and explain his motivations. I liked his relationship with the little girl living in the same apartment building and how he looked after her.
While talking about the apartment building, the landlord is played by actor and ASL Master Anselmo DeSousa. You should all read more about the amazing work he has done. Regardless of whether you enjoyed Dark Web: Cicada 3301 or not, I think it’s a good example of how an R-rated comedy can be written without punching down on groups that are discriminated against in real-life under the guise of “jokes”. I mean, if you are unable to tell a single joke without being a bigot, it’s safe to say you were never a funny person.
Even though it’s a well-directed project, when it comes to the twists and turns in Dark Web: Cicada 3301, mileage will vary depending on your interest in cyber mysteries. I do think this movie could have benefited from a more different approach, especially when depicting the party our leads go to near the end and the type of people in attendance.
I also didn’t like Avi being sidelined (you’ll see what I’m talking about when you watch this film). It made sense, considering the dangerous environment, but still, I think Avi could have been used better.
If you’re in the mood for a comedic cyber mystery with lots of puzzle-solving, you should consider checking out Dark Web: Cicada 3301.
It was made available on Digital and On Demand today. You can own it on Blu-ray and DVD come March 16, 2021.
Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.
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