Friend Request, 2016.
Directed by Simon Verhoeven.
Starring Alycia Debnam-Carey, William Moseley, Connor Paolo, Brit Morgan, Brooke Markham, Sean Marquette, and Liesl Ahlers.
Enjoying college life as a popular student, Laura shares everything with her more than 800 friends on Facebook. But one day, after accepting a friend request from a social outcast named Marina, Laura’s life is cursed, and her closest friends begin dying cruel deaths. Before her time is up, Laura must solve the mystery behind Marina and her Facebook profile, in order to break the deadly spell.
If Friend Request – a further example of Hollywood’s lame quest of exploiting one’s social media presence-is anything to go by, always judge a book by its cover, especially if that book is a Goth, Goths hate popular kids.
Our protagonist Laura, played admirably by Alycia Debnam-Carey, is like ridiculously popular, we know this because the film finds it necessary to have a screaming friend counter appear on-screen intermittently, as if younger viewers will find terror among an ever decreasing friend group. A chance encounter with Marina leads to her “friending” her, before deleting her following an arduous and broadly silly confrontation. What follows is an unholy amalgamation of tedious tech lingo and tedious horror cliché.
Director Simon Verhoeven seems to inherently distrust his own source material, choosing to ramp up the tension through the use of jump scares and the odd revelation sign-posted a mile off. It’s a study in exploiting the “quiet, quiet, BANG” trope to its most extreme. Characters dither in dark hallways, a door is opened purely to hide half the frame, the score drops, before a mess of noise. None of this constitutes actual terror.
All this lends itself back to that screaming friend counter. In 30 Rock, Steve Busemi’s private investigator finds himself undercover at a high school, skateboard in hand, clad in a red cap, red hoodie, “music band” t-shirt-because that’s what all teenagers wear-before declaring, “how do you do fellow kids.” That is Friend Request. It’s a cynical, half-baked tool that has more in common with a parent trying their very hardest to be cool around their teenage children than a convincing way of conveying the horror of social media popularity.
The script similarly finds itself bogged down in the semantics of Internet lingo, “unfriend that bitch,” being the stand out line in a film in which Skype is a force for terror. Watching someone attempt and fail to unfriend someone isn’t scary, neither is the act of hearing your phone buzz. Like You’ve Got Mail gone before, one can envisage this ultimately lending itself too much mockery in years to come.
It’s all a rather mean-spirited affair. Where Verhoeven tries to convey the narcissism of social media popularity, he instead seems to find joy in the mockery of his Goth villain. Liesl Ahlers tries her very hardest in a role that feels grossly under-written yet comically over-baked. Clearly anyone that doesn’t shop at Abercrombie is a heathen. Characters never resemble actual people. Laura’s group of friends, seemingly the popular kids, come off as a group I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be around.
All this builds to a final act consisting of every possible horror trope: creepy kids, dusty basement, sinister killer, a twist sign-posted a mile off while being sound tracked by the very worst nu-metal compilation album. As the credits rolled, it came as a surprise to find that Papa Roach weren’t the musical supervisors.
Friend Request is vacuous, cynical with a moral that seems to encourage the distrust of anyone that isn’t some nightmarish, popularity obsessed millennial. I know what I’d rather be.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★