Starring Alycia Debnam-Carey, William Moseley, Connor Paolo, Liesl Ahlers
Directed by Simon Verhoeven
Attractive, popular, successful people should never, ever make friends with eccentric, artistic loners lest they be very, very sorry.
That struck me as the prevailing message of Friend Request, a social media supernatural schlocker that takes familiar tropes from Pulse, The Ring, Paranormal Activity, and countless other post-2000 horror movies I could rattle off and grinds them all into a flavorless paste suitable for pre-teens that don’t have time to chew on something more worthwhile.
Laura is an attractive, popular, successful college student. She has hundreds of social media friends, a handsome doctor boyfriend, and another guy friend who really wants to get out of the friend zone. All is well in Laura’s life until she makes the mistake of being charitable to pale-skinned, hoodie-wearing, oddball Marina, a classmate who won’t stop staring at her from a distance in a manner that initially led me to think she also wanted to be more than just friends, if you catch my drift. Laura finds her interesting, what with her depressing demeanor and Facebook page adorned with Tim Burton-meets-Blumhouse inspired horror art and videos. Her zero Facebook friend count inspires sympathetic Laura to befriend the girl online as well over the protests of her actual friends, who clearly know a red flag when they see one. Marina’s demeanor instantly changes, becoming clingy and sinister to the point of stalker-y, in both real life and online. Laura finally has enough and decides to unfriend the girl. That’s when Laura’s real nightmare begins.
Actually, that’s not true. Laura was already having nightmarish jump scare dream sequences long before Marina commits suicide online, takes over her Facebook page using supernatural coding (that looks a bit like Klingon), causes her friends to die in means more convoluted than horrifying, and then begins posting viral videos of her friends dying, causing more of Laura’s online friends to abandon her.
That scene of Laura unfriending Marina borders on “South Park” level parody. Sad, dramatic music accompanies the entire scene. Dark room. Only her face lit by the light of the computer screen. Tight shot of her hesitant, quivering finger as she presses the enter button. Marina’s friend count drops from “1” to “0,” then cut to close-up of Laura’s crying eyes, tears streaming. Are you kidding me? Contrast that to later in the film when someone she loves gets brutally murdered right in front of her and she barely reacts at all. #priorities
This might be the first movie to ever give a running count in the corner of the screen of how many Facebook friends the main character has: 844 and dropping. Not how many are being killed by the ghost; just how many are unfriending her because of the snuff videos she has no control over. When her friend count dropped down to 84, I couldn’t help but envision a Kardashian watching this movie and thinking it the scariest motion picture ever made.
Marina responds to being unfriended by live streaming her suicide by hanging and setting herself on fire. A college professor solemnly announces the girl’s suicide in class, but shortly thereafter one of Laura’s friends says the police never found a body and could find no proof that the girl ever really existed. So, uh, how does anyone know for sure she’s actually dead and it isn’t all a hoax? Forget it. If you start applying logic to this one, you’re already doing it wrong.
One scene that truly encapsulates the mindlessness of the whole endeavor occurs when Laura gets called into the college dean’s office. Yes, they know she did not post that video of her friend being killed. Yes, they understand her Facebook has been hacked and whatever encryption they’re using is making it impossible for her to even delete her account, let alone the snuff video. But, as Laura is told, there have been too many complaints so they have no choice but to suspend her for the remainder of the semester.
Say what? That makes no sense on a multitude of levels. That’s Friend Request, folks.
No real point delving to deeply into the plot because this film never leaves the shallow end of the pool. Friend Request is to horror movies what your local Kiwanis Club-sponsored Halloween spookhouse is to haunted holiday attractions. Sure, it’ll give the cheapest thrills to the easily scared or those too young to have visited a more upscale Halloween haunted house, but nobody else is walking out thinking they’ve gotten their money’s worth.
This is one of those horror movies in which the supernatural force can do whatever it wants, wherever it wants, whenever it wants, however it wants. There are no rules. There’s barely any rhyme or reason to its methodology. All that matters is what the filmmakers wanted to happen when they need it. Facebook accounts get possessed. Laptops get possessed. Cellular phones get possessed. People get possessed. The witch-ghost-whatever can cause nightmares, hallucinations, and can even conjure forth fatal encounters with the various physical manifestations of the stuff seen in hallucinations and nightmares. The entity’s machinations and motivations for doing so are as convoluted as they are mediocre. Everything about Friend Request represents a means to an end more than an actual reason for being.
It’s a shame because I could see nuggets of ideas within the quagmire of cliche that could have delivered if the movie had any interest in either making a statement/satirizing millennials and their obsession with social media or crafting a horror movie that doesn’t just deliver a stale greatest hits playlist of tired horror tropes. All efforts to do so are done in by a script that feels like a cobbling of notes generated by the multitude of producers as they sat around a table discussing what they had seen work in other modern successful horror movies.
Insects! Swarms of insects! Insects are creepy!
Don’t forget old, dingy dolls. Ugly doll heads are all the rage.
Good one. We also need plenty of dream sequences.
And spooky ghost children. They give me the chills.
I really like slasher films. Can we have her running from a guy with a knife?
But it’s a ghost movie.
I thought it was a witch movie?
What if the ghost-witch possesses someone with a knife?
I like it! Make that the third act. Something for everyone!
That show “Black Mirror” seems popular. I’ve never seen it, but I hear it has to do with computers and witches. What if we work a black mirror into the plot? Or just have characters say “black mirror” a lot.
Love it! We are going to make millions!
If the producers had a few more months to work on it, I’m sure a creepy clown would have made an appearance.
Friend Request‘s most grievous sin is its bungled climax that almost completely abandons the haunted social media angle in lieu of just having Laura get chased about an abandoned factory by a possessed friend trying to stab her, a notion that makes even less sense than usual given what we come to find out is the ghost’s true intentions towards her. Poorly staged, devoid of even a modicum of suspense, and seemingly going on forever, the irony of a movie about social media practically daring you to check your phone when you should be on the edge of your seat. Not going to lie; I spent a portion of this movie-going experience doing just that.
“Now you will know what it is like to be lonely!” taunts Marina in a Facebook threat.
As I looked around the empty theater on opening day, yeah, I already knew that feeling.
The Cured Review – Ellen Page Fights for Her Life
Written and directed by David Freyne
Taking a cue from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the new Irish horror film The Cured begins where most zombie stories end. Drawing more comparisons, the themes of mistrust and social upheaval are front and center here as well. We’re the real villains, and the infectious disease turning humans into monsters is only there to hold up a mirror to show the worst sides of ourselves. The Cured uses the zombie mythos as Romero intended as a commentary on culture, with a little cannibalism thrown in for good measure.
Against the backdrop of a military takeover attempting to reintroduce the recently cured back into society, two people try to return to some kind of normalcy in a war-torn Ireland that’s been turned upside down by the zombie menace. Recently widowed, Abbey (Page) allows her now virus-free brother-in-law Senan (Keeley) to live with her and her son, even though most survivors are forced to live in an army encampment. Under constant surveillance, Senan’s old friend Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor) radicalizes the mistreated survivors of the virus into open rebellion.
The treatment of the survivors isn’t entirely unfair considering that they still have a connection and are not detected by a small percentage of the infected that haven’t responded to the cure. As both sides size each other up, Abbey and Senan are caught in the middle as they try to restore their humanity before the powder keg around them erupts.
Given its far out premise, the story stays firmly grounded in reality, focusing on the growing resistance and its political implications, drawing parallels to the protest movements such as the “Black Block” that have dominated some recent news cycles. When the virus divided the population, it was easy to know what side you were on; now, the cure has created a new class structure where the lower class is maligned until they cross the line and overthrow the uninfected. Clearly still affected and haunted by the heinous acts they committed when they were infected, the cannibalistic rage they still carry reflects the rage felt by the mistreated masses hellbent on overthrowing the powers-that-be.
Whether for budget reasons or simply a style choice, the eating frenzies that occurred before the cure are never fully shown so any gore and graphic images that could’ve been showcases for effects are left to the imagination. Maybe they weren’t shown because these acts were so unspeakable that they are too horrific to see and too painful to fully be remembered by the survivors. The top-notch sound design ratchets up instead and roars to life to the point where just hearing the carnage is enough to make you turn away.
Page’s performance is the emotional core of the film as she goes from understanding to fear to dealing with the ultimate betrayal. It’s important for a slow-developing story like this to have an actress with some star power, and director David Freyne and his team were fortunate to have a high caliber actress ready to deliver in some of the film’s quieter, more intense moments. Freyne directs these smaller character moments with care and also delivers once things open up to show the inevitable anarchy brimming under the surface.
The Cured may feel too closed off at times to allow its bigger ideas to fully breathe, but it never pretends to encompass a more epic scope that would be more in the vein of something like World War Z. Without ever addressing it directly, Freyne, as an Irishman, seems well aware of the history of the country; and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail inject their film with a pathos that makes Dublin come to life inside the world of the undead.
The Cured is a gritty take on the genre that fits nicely into the new type of storytelling that these stories need to embrace in a post-Romero world.
Bad Apples Review – Rotten Fruit, Indeed
Starring Brea Grant, Graham Skipper, Alycia Lourim
Directed by Brian Coyne
Like a seriously bad rash, some films stick with you regardless of whichever topical ointment you slather in generous fashion over your regions – ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce today’s orbital irritant: Bad Apples.
Directed (rather misdirected) by Brian Coyne, this lamentably sterile piece of celluloid follows a couple of murderous sisters, donning horrific (and not in a good sense) masks, and generally putting the sharp edges to random folk on Halloween night…case closed. Only problem here is this: the film has no pulse, no interesting characters to speak of, and basically nothing to redeem or recapture the time that you’ll have spent watching this complete dud. A husband and wife duo has a spotlight on them as well, but their tempestuous relationship makes rooting for them about as pleasing as sitting through 3 hours of Olympic curling…absolutely brutal. Also, you’re reading the babblings of a guy who loves to put the boots to any film that has been deemed “unwatchable”, but this complete wreck of a production is entirely that – something so remedial and uninspired that to type an endless array of rightful vitriol would be an utter waste of time.
So I’ll go on a bit longer with my public display of vehemence, as the casting seems WAY out of whack, and the production? Whoa…don’t even get me started on this – okay, I’ll go on a bit. With differing levels of sound editing, you’ll get the feeling at times like you could pick up a needle drop inside of a concert hall, and other frames of dialogue are so muddled they’re incomprehensible (not like you’ll feel the need to know what’s going on). Wonky camera angles and following shots are so horrendously captured, you’ll be wishing to watch your Mom and Dad’s old home movies just to gain a sense of stability. I normally pride myself on not begging this particular audience to take what I say to heart, or to shy away from something that could potentially ruin their eyesight, but believe me when I plead with you: do not waste your valuable time on this shipwreck – even if your time isn’t all that valuable: don’t waste it. Find something else to do and take a big ol’ pass on this wannabe slasher.
I don’t mean to pick on the low-hanging fruit, but these Apples should be batted away with a Louisville Slugger.
Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone
Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters
Directed by Jeff Houkal
Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?
Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.
As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).
Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”
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