Synopsis – When a college student unfriends a mysterious girl online, she finds herself fighting a demonic presence that wants to make her lonely by killing her closest friends.
My Take – It seems like horror films revolving around the internet and social media are going to stay for a while! While I must say that it is interesting to watch this relatively new sub genre trying hard to find its footing, examples of such kind of films done right are sadly few. Agreed, the internet can be a very dark place, it’s that way because people feel more comfortable saying how they truly feel on matters when they’re hidden behind a computer screen, rather than being face to face with someone. So many of these films revolve around supernatural elements that any real fear which could be generated from the vast and faceless web is usually lost in lieu of cheap jump-scares and spooky faces popping into frame. One of the biggest shocks to me came in the form of the surprising greatness of the 2014 film Unfriended, a social media savvy horror flick that delivered a fresh take on familiar genre tropes by filming on Skype. Here, director Simon Verhoeven’s first studio horror venture is attempting a similar feat, combining multiple sub genres into one teen friendly tale. Regardless of the contemporary feel it soon falls into a series of awkward acting and old age jump scares galore herby becoming a wholesome disappointment. It follows the same example of poorly done films with almost rigid devotion, by adding in it a few delightful mystery bits, followed by the expected flaws. The story follows Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey), a popular college student who is highly active on social media, which includes her Facebook account (totaling over 800 friends). Hanging out with her handsome medical student boyfriend, Tyler (William Moseley), she seems to have made a perfect life for herself. After drawing the attention of reclusive, artistic oddball Marina (Liesl Ahlers), she receives a social media friend request from her fellow classmate who has 0 friends on her social page.
However, the intensity of Marina’s infatuation causes Laura and her friends, including good time girl Olivia (Brit Morgan), sensitive Isabel (Brooke Markham), loudmouthed funnyman Gus (Sean Marquette) and love struck geek Kobe (Connor Paolo) to grow wary of this clearly disturbed girl. The situation eventually builds to a violent disagreement, following which Laura unfriends the desperately clingy Marina who ends up committing suicide, while filming the whole thing on her webcam as she does so. Consumed by guilt, Laura struggles to make sense of events, especially when she continues to receive updates from the dead girl’s account. However, Marina’s is not the last death close to Laura as she begins to lose those she holds dearest, forcing Laura in a race against time to discover the horrifying truth. Although this film begins with a promising sentiment, it does, however, collapse hard. The story was there and had some very decent ideas. But the whole thing just felt incredibly rushed and incoherent. There were so many times where things were explained but never finished. I know things that are unexplained in the horror genre are usually a great thing, but don’t start explaining something and never finish it. I felt like the plot was an alright to lead in to a very familiar concept, college kids getting picked off one by one while one person tries to figure things out and find a way to stop the person or thing that is terrorizing them. After the initial set up this film really starts to look a lot like a number of previous modern day horror films, it just makes no effort whatsoever to try to shake things up a bit. They took an overused formula and stuck to it pretty much to the tee. I even find it hard to write much about the film because it was so bland and just didn’t really offer much at all. You will predict every twist, you will see every death coming, and you will not be shocked by the ending at all. Even though I was actually mildly surprised by the fact that I didn’t hate the characters, as generic as they are, and the animation done by the soon-to-be-murderous-spirit-girl in the beginning was actually well done. In fact – if they integrated that animation into the story, for instance – make the animation some sort of alternate reality from which the spirit comes and only there can it be stopped, they could have actually made something creative and refreshing. Alas, it’s all downhill from there – You have the main characters and the secondary ones, and of course – the secondary ones are being taken out first, slowly working the way to the inner core characters. So you have 10 minutes of exposition / investigation, 5 minutes of supernatural murder, rinse and repeat. That was about an hour of the film, and I was fine with that, I did not expect much to begin with, but the ending! If they just made it simple, last survivors’ duke it out with the ghost and either kick its ass or just make peace with it so it moves on, it would make an acceptable ending to a not-so-bad film. But no, they just had to bring in the so called interesting twist, I won’t go into detail, but the last 10 minutes of this film made me think “yeah, that would be cool, If it was 2004”. A scene that really annoyed me was where one of the kid kills himself that lives in residence on campus, we know what is about to happen, and my issue was as he walks down the halls of this residence, you see no one in sight, the entire place is empty. Okay so everyone moved out and he’s the only one in the dorm? Then they break the forth wall at the end right before the credits, that set the teen drama cheesiness to factor 10. There’s nothing notable about the film past its premise. The script similarly finds itself bogged down in the semantics of Internet lingo, “unfriend that bitch,” being the stand out line in a film in which Skype is a force for terror.
Watching someone attempt and fail to unfriend someone isn’t scary, neither is the act of hearing your phone buzz. Like You’ve Got Mail gone before, one can envisage this ultimately lending itself too much mockery in years to come. It’s all a rather mean-spirited affair. Where director Verhoeven tries to convey the narcissism of social media popularity, he instead seems to find joy in the mockery of his Goth villain. The film also tries to deliver a tale of ancient cursing which fit considerably well with the theme. However, these aspects are still restrained by the basic stalker premise and a few chat interfaces, videos or gif images don’t make them fresh. The realism is suspended because bulk of the film happens in social media pages, which have censorship for graphic material in the first place. Even if it’s by sinister entity, people would probably expect it as hacked account and wouldn’t blame Laura who is constantly discriminated by police, school and even her close friends. This goes on for a while as the film tries to create drama in her expense. Furthermore, the police are here merely as extras or even comedy relief as they spew disrespectful things to victims while adamantly suspecting the thin girl. Then you have the old friend, jump scares. It’s near stupefying that people would randomly walk into empty hallway or looking into dark things when there’s ominous presence lingering just five minute before, in no way unpredictable they would stumble on jump scare. The attempt to incorporate modern aspect is nice, but with timid execution it doesn’t produce any dynamic effect, instead it merely registers! Director Simon Verhoeven seems to inherently distrust his own source material, choosing to ramp up the tension through the use of jump scares and the odd revelation sign-posted a mile off. The film sort of fizzles out and the actual conclusion doesn’t really make much sense in context to all the revelations of the plot prior to that point. There are unintentional LOLs aplenty as Marina’s obsessive behavior in liking all of Laura’s posts is revealed in a clumsy way, and utterances like ‘unfriend that dead bitch’ are delivered with a stony face. Ultimately, it seems Marina is out to teach Laura a lesson in empathy by picking her friends off one by one. The mobile phone interference sound effects are creepy and, although you can see them coming, a couple of the jump-scares are well crafted. The deaths are suitably gruesome, especially a gory sequence set in an elevator, but the film lifts from too many other sources – most noticeably Final Destination – making it feel stale. The writers also make the fatal error of drawing the character of Marina in such a flimsy and downright ugly fashion that the serious issues the film is exploring get pushed to the wayside in favor of shoehorning in gimmicky frights. Alycia-Debnam Carey (Fear The Walking Dead) is a really good actress and I really wish she would star in something decent. A few better performances come from Liesl Ahlers as she’s right for the puzzling and creepy character, along with Connor Paolo, the ex who got friend zoned, while the rest of the cast is struggling. On the whole, ‘Friend Request’ is a dull, cliché filled, mind-bogglingly unforgivably bad horror film that is not even scary on a basic level.
Directed – Simon Verhoeven
Rated – R
Run Time – 92 minutes