It is rare to see a film squander such an opportunity.
Friend Request is a recent horror film about a curse that afflicts a young woman over social media. The previews looked dumb—cyber demons are rarely interesting, and for whatever reason technology and horror don’t tend to mesh well outside of true science fiction. Despite thinking the trailers looked a little hammy I decided to give this one a shot, and I found myself more disappointed than I thought I would. Bad horror movies are a dime a dozen—scroll through this very blog to see numerous examples, but rarely do they squander decent points as much as this one.
Social media addiction, and the depression/isolation that a young person can feel are real issues. The film starts relatively heavy with a professor announcing that a student has killed themselves. The young woman, Marina (Liesl Ahlers) is a social outcast, and another student, Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) makes a pity friendship with her on Facebook. Marina is an intense friend, and begins to stalk Laura, prompted an unfriending and this leads to the subsequent suicide. However, this is not a simple suicide, but rather a ritual that curses Laura and all of her friends.
Right from the start there is something off about the film. I think this is the setting itself. These are not young college students (Laura’s boyfriend is in medical school, and while they indicate she is a sophomore, the actress is 25). A high school setting would have packed more of a punch than a college one. I get that social media is still important to people in their twenties, but the age of the actors made it all seem a little cheesy.
The film chooses to use the social media aspects as set dressing rather than any sort of plot or purpose. Here is where the film truly fails, as instead of dealing with suicide and depression we just have a catalyst for another haunted story. None of the characters are very sympathetic, and this leads to a feeling of indifference as you watch. Marina is too intense, so her suicide doesn’t leave much of a bite, and Laura and co. are not much better.
Horror movies benefit from not needing a moral or lesson. Honestly, older horror films that snuck in moral points were often sexist (looking at you, slasher films), and others fed off religious guilt and fear. The absence of these points doesn’t hurt the genre—usually, but when a film chooses to ignore a major social issue it is simply bothersome. I might be harping a bit here, but this one really pissed me off. We have Laura’s friend counter imposed on the screen, and the diminishing numbers are presented with more narrative importance than the literal deaths that occur. You might think this is an opportunity to make a comment about the vanity of internet friends, but this is yet another ignored chance to redeem the film.
The acting is okay, I guess. We have a bunch of shallow characters that are squeezed into some sort of college student archetype. Like everything else in the film, the people occupying it are just taking up space. Yet, I am hesitant to blast the actors. I think they did they best they could with what they had. We do have two cops who keep appearing and ruin each scene they are in. Not sure here, but I imagine cops who crack jokes about teen suicides would probably not be put on such a case.
Dreary lighting is used to create atmosphere, but it just makes it look like this particular college doesn’t pay the electric bills. I work at a college, so I guess this is my pet peeve. It is weird to me that no profession is presented accurately in movies (even the small details like the cafeteria seem off). I have yet to meet someone who says, “Yeah, they did pretty good on presenting my job.” I am not asking for perfection, but even spending a day on a campus the set designers should have seen much to change.
The film handles sexual violence with all thumbs. I was surprised to see this aspect of the narrative crammed in during the latter half. Marina is a victim through and through, and I guess this was a way for them to force sympathy, but they presented her so poorly that by the time these revelations appear it just seems cheap (probably because it is).
Perhaps the greatest sin for a horror film is making one that is not scary. The jump scares are telegraphed so strongly that you can’t be surprised. There is no creep factor to this that they didn’t ruin with poor writing. Don’t waste your time with this one. 2/10