After the success of Unfriended and the release of Friend Request, it seems that social media and internet-based horror is here to stay – horror has always been the genre to try and embrace new technology, speaking as it does to new human fears. However, if this film is an indicator of what is to come, I rather hope it doesn’t.
The film follows your typical social media-obsessed teenager – in this case, it’s Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey). Laura has an annoying perfect life, with a set of picture-perfect vacuous friends and an online presence extraordinaire. One day, she accepts a friend request from a girl called Marina (Liesl Ahlers), who goes virtually unnoticed at school and pulls out her hair. Marina’s adoration of Laura soon turns to obsession, and so Laura unfriends Marina – she responds with a barrage of messages before uploading a video of her suicide. The video crops up on Laura’s Facebook page, and her friends begin to die – Laura realises that the dead girl is behind this, and seeks to find a way to end the curse before she ends up completely alone.
Friend Request is a by-the-numbers horror film that does nothing new, failing to really take advantage of the premise it sets up – a mixing of old-school occultism with new technology. Every horror cliché in the book can be found here and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be able to brace yourself for the jump shocks because you know when they’ll be coming. The best moments are those in which the film chooses not to be quite so flagrant with its frights – there are two scratchy face children who work best just standing in the background where they shouldn’t be – but it kills any tension it creates by insisting on a ‘quiet, quiet, LOUD’ model of scaring.
As I say, you’ll have seen everything here before – particular kudos to the heavy-handedly convenient lecture explaining what internet addiction is – and anything it tries isn’t frightening. The film attempts to generate terror from phones going off, printers printing and weird code that isn’t quite code. These things are as scary as they sound. Similarly, I find it hard to buy that losing your friends on Facebook (as Laura does) is quite the terrifying premise the film wants it to be. Maybe I’m a bit too old for this film – the kids a couple of rows in front were lapping it up (and, paradoxically, frequently on their phones).
We also have a laughable villain and a plot that doesn’t really make any sense. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Ahlers does a decent job but she’s playing with a character who is massively underwritten and can’t really do much with her. Sadly, there is somehow not enough and yet too much (amongst her ghostly motifs, we have black mirrors, bees, ghost children, evil code and sending friend requests) to Marina.
More annoyingly are the massive plot issues. The ghost wants Laura to be alone, but refuses to allow some characters to unfriend her. It wants to upset Laura by wiping out her friends, but kills people she would never hear about. The distance that Laura can cover with a gaping wound is incredible. And I must lay particular focus on the ending shot, which makes so little sense it really annoyed me. It may have been angling for a sequel, or trying to make some point about the nature of social media, but I didn’t get that from it.
The only thing that really makes it different is the sense of discomfort I felt watching it. And I don’t mean discomfort as in fear, but rather in a dislike at how the film made me feel. The film posits Marina as a bullying victim, a character who has always been alone and who is seeking companionship – sure, her spurning by Laura is a touch cruel, but the sheer disproportionate level of retribution levied against her means I don’t really feel comfortable being on either side. I feel like the film may have been trying to make some kind of social commentary, but the moral here is pretty much that you shouldn’t make friends with outcasts because they might be murderous witches.
Overall, Friend Request is an uneven ride that will leave you with a sour taste in your mouth. I imagine it may see frightening if you’re the kind of person who places their social media presence above all, but I don’t think anyone else will take much from it.
Director: Simon Verhoeven
Cast: Alycia Debnam-Carey (Laura), William Moseley (Tyler), Connor Paolo (Kobe), Brit Morgan (Olivia), Brooke Markham (Isabel), Sean Marquette (Gustavo)
Running Time: 92 Mins
Image credit: http://filmexo.com/movies/990267-friend-request