Go see IT. But don’t go see this….
Directed by Simon Verhoeven/2017
“Evil is Trending” says the poster for the new horror film Friend Request. If it is, it is the evil of yesteryear when Facebook was still the social media du jour for college students, instead of the platform they use when they’re trying to stay in touch with their grandparents who like to see the pictures that they post. In a horror film that would have made more sense in 2004, Friend Request still should get massive props for playing this premise straight and reaching for genuine scares, even if it delivers very few. While it is coming out at a prime time for horror films wishing to begin preparing the teen crowd for the Halloween season, it is still going to fall under the enormous shadow of Pennywise the Dancing Clown and the runaway smash that is IT.
Besides the silliness of the premise, the film also doesn’t have any kind of internal consistency in its story’s main conflict and resolution.
Friend Request follows Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey), a popular sophomore student who as a sophomore is leaning towards following in her late father’s footsteps in being a psychiatrist. She has recently moved into an off-campus apartment with her friends Olivia (Brit Morgan), and Isabel (Brooke Markham). Dating doctor in training, Tyler (William Moseley), while good friend, and computer expert-extraordinaire Kobe (Connor Paolo) not-so-secretly pines for her. Along with Gustavo (Sean Marquette), who is especially close with Isabel, they form a group of friends who are often seen together, documenting their social lives on Facebook.
We are given a montage of just how popular Laura is as we watch her social media postings come to life. She’s a runner, she’s a daughter, she’s a friend, she goes clubbing, she’s pretty, etc. All the while that these pictures and scenes flash across the screen, we see that her “friend” list on Facebook continues to climb higher and higher. At around 830-ish, we jump into the thick of our story. The film opens with a death at the school being announced to the class that Laura and Olivia are sitting in. As they give concerned looks, we are magically transported to a flashback stating “2 weeks earlier”.
The film quickly compacts an entire scenario in these 2 weeks where Laura befriends the class loner, Marina (Liesl Ahlers), on Facebook, who then begins to be a bit of a cyber stalker. Sure, Laura sees that Marina’s Facebook page contains “0 friends”, and is covered in strange animated drawings that depict death, violence, witchcraft, and other sinister things, but she’s trying to reach out to this poor girl. When Laura gets creeped out that Marina has commented multiple times on every single Facebook post she has posted, she downplays the gathering she is having for her birthday, telling Marina that Tyler is just taking her out so that Marina won’t be there.
Mind you, its only been about 2 days since friending her on Facebook and having one walk across campus talking, but Marina is the most dedicated stalker I’ve ever seen on film in such a short amount of time. When the pics from the real birthday gathering are posted however, Marina is enraged. A confrontation leads to Laura doing the unthinkable: she “unfriends” Marina on Facebook!!!!!!!
Following Marina’s suicide (the death mentioned in the opening scene in Laura’s class) in which she filmed it and it found its way to the school’s computer, all seems to be over. All of that is the set-up. The rest of the film is about how Marina, now seemingly dead, continues to send messages to Laura about making her understand what lonely truly is. When Laura’s friends start being targeted, and strange things are posted on Laura’s Facebook, even though she isn’t doing it, Marina begins to have her revenge as we constantly see the countdown of Laura’s “Friends list” from the 830-ish until she is plunging down towards zero.
While my description is a bit mocking in tone (as it should be), the film does give it its all in terms of creating a good tone, and the requisite jump scares to make the film feel serviceable as a legitimate horror film that may find a small audience who appreciates its attempt. True horror film aficionados, however, will know to avoid this film just from the premise they gather from the trailer.
Besides the silliness of the premise, the film also doesn’t have any kind of internal consistency in its story’s main conflict and resolution. Jaime Foxx’s turn as Max Dillon/Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was built on the ridiculous notion that a man becomes a super villain because Spider-Man didn’t remember meeting him once following a 10 second run-in. Likewise, we are led to believe that Marina is soooooo lonely that she would instantly cling to, and hyper fixate on, Laura for just the kindness of “friending” her on social media. It then opens up a door to all kinds of crazy narrative twists-and-turns, including a dark backstory, ancient witchcraft rituals, computer skills that even Kobe can’t crack, despite having the chance to impress Laura. When we reach the end of the story, it does another twist that erodes the entire premise of the film. I don’t have time to cover the love triangle, the keystone cops, or the fact that one entity is able to basically be omnipresent as a true “ghost in the machine”, among several other borrowed clichés.
Friend Request is already in danger of being confused for the film Unfriended, and given the fact that it is based on an aging social media platform for its “cutting edge” setting doesn’t bode well for this film. Neither does the fact that the theater showing the advance screening I attended wasn’t full. If you get a friend request from Friend Request, hoping to have you “follow them”….to the theater to see their film, it is best to just deny it and see something else.