Exclusive: Director Simon Verhoeven Accepts Our Friend Request


We had the opportunity recently to catch up with Simon Verhoeven, the director of the latest “social media horror” flick, Friend Request. We asked him what makes his movie different and what some of his inspiration was when crafting this familiar, yet frightening landscape.

We’ve all been there: accepting a friend request online we really don’t want to. In this story Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is a popular college student who accepts a ping from social outcast Marina. But the friendship doesn’t last, and Marina takes her own life after Laura decides to unfriend her. Pretty soon, a disturbing and mysterious video appears on Laura’s profile, and her Facebook contacts dwindle away. They are literally gone… when Laura’s friends suddenly start dying.

Dread Central: How is Friend Request different from, say, Bedeviled or Unfriended?

Simon Verhoeven: To me, Friend Request feels more like an old school horror movie. I haven’t seen Bedeviled, but Unfriended was stylistically very young as everything was shot through webcams at home.  I think Friend Request is a much more classic visual experience; it offers a rich, dark journey with lots of exciting locations more like an 80s horror film. In terms of story our film is more about the mysterious dark images on a Facebook profile, what they mean, and the solving of a puzzle than the actual online experience and the mechanisms that Unfriended played with.

DC: I think all of us have had the set-up of Friend Request happen to us… we have a party, post pics, and quickly find out whom we forgot to invite to the event! Was this a part of the inspiration for you, or was it something else that happened to spark the idea?

SV: Yes, everybody knows how quickly you can make mistakes online on social networks. Excluding someone from a group or finding out about something that you were excluded from. Observing other people’s lives. Getting jealous, angry, feeling alone. All of this is part of the social network experience, and all of this can lead to scary situations. Also, the meaning of the word “friend” plays a big part in the film. Many of us have 400 Facebook friends or more, but are they really friends? Of course not. 

DC: Most directors of “teen horror” movies are in their 30s or 40s (for instance, Sean Cunningham, the director of Friday the 13th, was 39 years old in 1980… not exactly a kid) – so tell us how you were able to not only put yourself in the mindset to write for teenage characters, but also whether or not you yourself are into social media and how you experience it.

SV: I am into social media, but very limited. Too much of it stresses me out quickly. Of course when you write a film like that, you try to listen to young people around you, try to observe them, watch their online behavior. And then the actors also bring their energy to it all! But yes, at my age, it is a challenge to write for a young audience. Everything changes so fast nowadays. But then again, I am not the main writer of this film. 

DC: How will the movie appeal to horror fans in general, not just the teenage audience?

SV: Again, I think it feels more like a classic horror film that could have been done in the 80s. It is not just about online stalking, but more about a puzzle of surreal, dark images on a profile that need to be solved in order to stay alive. To me, this whole imagery has more to do with old school horror films and old fairy tales than modern social media-themed films. Also, the movie is about the meaning of true friendship, which is a theme that everybody can relate to. 

DC: It seems “social media horror” is reflective of our times, not unlike the “Satanic Panic horror” of the 1970s. Please share your thoughts on this and how the subject speaks to you as a storyteller and filmmaker.

SV: That is an interesting comparison. I think you are right! Even though we all use social media, there still is something new, strange, and mysterious about this social media world that frightens us collectively. It’s like we’re all part of a big social experiment, and we don’t exactly know where this all will lead to…

We are all hooked up to one system; we put our thoughts, images, wishes, and desires online. Our souls, if you will. We become vulnerable.

In earlier years in horror films, you needed to have a lock of hair or a button to curse someone. Nowadays, you just need to be Facebook friends and have access to their profile. So there are definitely many dark sides to the Net we all know about and think about, which of course inspire horror films. I think there even is a reason to believe that a collective subconscious is existing online consisting of everything we all put into that system. Thinking of the technical aspect to the digital space, there may be parts of the Internet that works in mysterious, almost supernatural ways that we cannot completely control or understand.

DC: Your producer, Quirin Berg, said something interesting – about how the scariest horror is often set in our areas of comfort. Like our homes. The thought of home invasion is terrifying. And now our social media profiles are our virtual homes. Do you agree? Can you expand on this thought as it relates to the movie?

SV: Of course, this is another interesting aspect to social media horror. That it hurts you where you feel the most vulnerable. Not only at home, but in your virtual home. Young people nowadays put everything online; they create an online home, an online avatar of themselves, (once again) of their wishes, desires, thoughts, and dreams. Getting attacked virtually these days is basically the equivalent of getting attacked in your bedroom. It is the most private of intrusions possible.

DC: Who did your special effects, and what were some of the more challenging or fun aspects of creating a demonic creature and its creepy domain?

SV: The CG was done by Scanline, a German VFX company.  Some of the online design was created by the Horror Workshop, a young company in Berlin. The special makeup and creature design was developed with Jako Snyman and his company, Drea Smith, a fantastic South African team that has worked on many bigger budgeted American films . It was a pretty long process, especially creating the creepy images and animations of Marina, but of course that was fun. Keep in mind; we are a low budget horror film, so all of this visual development, the look of the whole film, etc., is something we had to work very hard for.

DC: How would you describe the look and tone of Friend Request, and are there any films or filmmakers whom you had in mind as inspiration when filming?

SV: The look and tone is more classic than modern. I grew up with 70s and 80s horror movies, so this is what I wanted. I really did not want to make another found footage horror film with a super shaky camera and a documentary feeling. I wanted to make a dark fairy tale, not something that felt super realistic. We all worked hard to create a more classic, visually high quality experience.

I like many different horror directors! Of course, the classic ones like John Carpenter or Wes Craven, or even Polanski. The Ring is another classic that we all love. But I think my movie was more inspired by old fairy tales. You have a young, innocent princess, and she meets her counterpart, this mysterious girl from the shadows, and they become friends – well, sort of – and that’s when the tragic story starts to unfold.

Friend Request

The film is in theaters NOW!

Directed by Simon Verhoeven, Friend Request stars Alycia Debnam-Carey (“Fear the Walking Dead”), Brit Morgan, William Moseley, and Connor Paolo. It was penned by Verhoeven with Matthew Ballen and Philip Koch.

Popular college student Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) has tons of friends, both on Facebook and IRL. She graciously accepts social outcast Marina’s (Liesl Ahlers) online friend request, until Marina crosses the line and Laura unfriends her. To everyone’s shock, Marina takes her own life in a ritual meant to torment Laura, which appears in a video posted on Laura’s profile. Even though it wasn’t Laura who posted the video, or other creepy content that begins appearing on her page, her Facebook friend count begins to dwindle as a result. When her real-life friends start dying mysterious, cruel deaths, Laura must figure out how to break the deadly curse before it’s too late.

Friend Request



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