6 Movies like Unlocked on Netflix: Currently trending on Netflix in multiple countries, the Korean thriller Unlocked is part of what is now popularly identified as ‘techno-horror.’ As self-evident by its designation, techno-horror employs our underlying distrust of technology to shape it into a scary parable.
While pioneering filmmakers like David Cronenberg and Kiyoshi Kurasawa already explored this paranoia in their seminal features, the subgenre received a boom in the 2010s when the Internet, smartphones, and social media became a ubiquitous part of our lives. Not only are our everyday communications now delivered via technology, but every intrinsic part of being human is mediated digitally. While certainly emancipatory for multiple reasons, this increased reliance on technology also comes with insidious implications. Unlocked (2023), like other techno-horror films, investigates this darker side of the digital space within the rubric of a crime-thriller film.
Directed by Kim Tae-joon, Unlocked revolves around Lee Na Mi (Woo-hee Chun), an office worker whose life is thrown into a spiral when she loses her smartphone. Her phone is found by a mysterious stranger Yeong Jun (Si-wan Yim), who harbors a sinister plan for Na Mi. Meanwhile, a police officer is investigating the serial murders of several women in the city and worries that his lost son might be responsible for these atrocities. Is there a connection between these serial killings and the manipulative hacker sabotaging Na Mi?
Unlocked taps into the fears of hacking and online surveillance in an era where everything about a person can be extracted from their cell phones. It also addresses themes of female paranoia, gaslighting, and stalking—but brackets these concerns to settle for a familiar crime thriller in its third act! Nevertheless, it is a serviceable thriller that resonates in our increasingly surveillant era.
If Unlocked left you hungry for more thematically similar movies, we have you covered with six thriller movies to watch after the Korean hit.
6. Klute (1971)
One of the oldest entries in this list, Alan J. Pakula’s Klute, is one of the most criminally underrated films of the 70s. Naturally, due to its temporal situation, the film has little to do with technology or our fears regarding it. But where Klute bears a resemblance to Unlocked is in its examination of paranoia from a feminist lens.
John Klute is a detective hired to investigate the disappearance of a family friend in New York City. During the case, Klute comes across Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda in her first Oscar-winning performance), a sex worker who might be connected to the disappearance. Little does Klute know that Bree is being surveilled by a mysterious stalker who might be connected to the latest murders of sex workers in the city.
Even though titled after its detective, Klute is primarily Jane Fonda’s film and aptly captures the sinister paranoia of being a sex worker in a frighteningly metropolitan urban space. While the hacker in Unlocked stalks from a digital distance, Bree’s stalker is always creeping near her—tapping every move. Assisted by its brilliant cinematography and ominous music, Klute is an unnerving exploration of living in paranoid times.
5. Black Christmas (1974)
What can be scarier than living in a large house and being threatened by increasingly perverted phone calls? Arguably one of the first slasher films ever made, Bob Clark’s Black Christmas set the template for creating the creepiest serial killer on film. Even Yeong Jun from Unlocked would be intimidated by the menacing Billy from this cult classic!
Black Christmas revolves around a group of sorority sisters on Christmas break who are terrorized by an unnamed intruder lurking in the basement of their house. Inspired by the infamous urban legend of the babysitter and the man upstairs—the movie, like Unlocked, is an examination of being threatened by an unseen person who has nefarious intentions to harm you. Not to mention that the film has a headstrong final girl in the form of Jess (Olivia Hussey) to cheer for—just like we did for Na Mi in the badass finale!
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4. Untraceable (2008)
If you were morbidly intrigued by the modus operandi of the manipulative hacker/killer in Unlocked, you would also enjoy the Diane Lane-helmed Untraceable, which features a like-minded demented murderer.
Lane plays FBI Agent Jennifer Marsh, who is looking into a series of gruesome murders—which are uploaded on a website titled killwithme.com. As Jennifer and her colleague Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks) investigate the leads, they realize that the killer has much more on his mind than simply murder.
A neat investigative crime thriller, Untraceable preempts several current conversations on social media and the internet public’s insatiable thirst for blood and murder. Plus, the nonchalant nerdy murderer from the film is probably the forefather of the similarly attired Yeong Jun from Unlocked.
3. The Den (2013)
One of the first films to inaugurate the computer-screen genre of movies that flooded the previous decade, the pioneering yet underrated The Den is an apt example of techno-horror and the fear of the unknown that lurks within the internet realm.
In the film, a graduate student, Elizabeth (Melanie Papalia), is researching a video-based social media site called ‘The Den.’ But when Elizabeth encounters a horrific murder online, it jeopardizes her life and those around her.
If Unlocked on Netflix relied on the phone’s camera as a constant surveilling object, The Den employs the webcam to comment on our vulnerability to be spied upon. Not to mention that running at a mere 80-minute length, The Den is also a taut spooky thriller that might make you aware enough to buy a webcam cover from Amazon.
2. Unfriended: The Dark Web (2018)
Just like The Den, Unfriended: The Dark Web employs the computer-screen format to locate the hidden dangers prevalent on the Internet. While its successful prequel Unfriended (2016) tapped into supernatural fears, the horror in The Dark Web (as obvious from its title) is rooted in a more realistic sphere.
If Unlocked is about what happens when someone finds your phone—The Dark Web employs the reverse formula. In the film, it is the protagonist who finds a seemingly lost laptop in a cybercafé—only to realize that some devices are best left unexplored. Nevertheless, both films are about the dangers of seemingly everyday used objects and the unknown entities lurking behind them.
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1. Searching (2018)
How much can you know about a person through their cell phone or laptop? If we ask the makers of the hit 2018 thriller Searching, the answer would be: Enough to undertake a missing’s person investigation.
Through its beginning montage sequence, Unlocked showcases how intertwined Lee Na Mi’s life is with her phone. Friends, shopping accounts, dietary preferences, and monetary transactions—in short, a microcosm of her life can be deduced via her phone. In Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching, a father (John Cho) uses all this information to locate his missing daughter through her laptop. Just how much we can learn about someone through their personal devices is a common theme in both films, but the constant twists and turns in Searching certainly elevate it above the frustratingly familiar third act of Unlocked.
Plus, while all the above films in the list express suspicion about the Internet landscape, Searching also dwells on the emancipatory potential of the web to assist in crime-solving and helping our loved ones!