Friend Request (2017)


Friend RequestStarring 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.

  • Film
User Rating 3.64 (11 votes)


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