DIR: Simon Verhoeven • WRI: Matthew Ballen, Philip Koch, Simon Verhoeven • PRO: Quirin Berg, Max Wiedemann • DOP: Jo Heim • ED: Denis Bachter, Felix Schmerbeck, Tom Seil • DES: Sylvain Gingras, Tommy Stark• MUS: Gary Go • CAST: Alycia Debnam Carey, William Moseley, Connor Paulo, Brit Morgan, Sean Marquette
Friend Request starts off with a college lecture hall and a psychology class about to continue their coverage of foreshadowing, I mean, the dangers of internet-addiction, when their professor makes the sad announcement that one of their fellow classmates, Marina Mills, has taken her own life over the weekend and the camera pans in on popular girl Laura’s shocked reaction before panning back to two weeks earlier.
We quickly learn of Laura’s overwhelming general happiness, her biggest problem being “too many friends”. Marina, the strange loner in class, seems to take a liking to her and adds Laura on Facebook. Laura is a little worried by the fact that Marina has been active on Facebook for a long time but has no other friends, but decides to accept her anyway. Marina is a talented, dark artist with gothic pictures and videos all over her timeline. When Marina starts to become obsessed with Laura’s every move, Laura pulls away and eventually, unfriends her, which leads to… well, let’s just say that this brings us about two weeks into the initial flashback.
While Laura is pretty freaked out by Marina’s death, things become far creepier when the video of Marina’s suicide shows up on Laura’s Facebook profile and she continues to receive messages and visions from the dead girl. Worse still, Marina’s Facebook accounts adds Laura’s friends, one at a time, before killing them off and continues to post a video of each death from Laura’s profile, alienating her from her online friends who think she’s enjoying the tragedies.
In a pretty unlikely turn of events, and I say that freely while describing a film about a haunted Facebook account, Marina’s body was never found, with the only evidence of her death being the video left behind, while nobody seems to consider for a moment that the girl who created disturbing videos as her only pastime might have been able to make a fake suicide video. Nope, instead the police adopt an incredibly lax, “let us know if anyone stumbles across her body” attitude, while accusing Laura of being sadistic every time a video is posted on her feed and reacting like they’ve never heard of the concept of hacking every time she claims someone else is doing it. Laura and her ever-diminishing group of close friends try to track down the resting place of Marina’s body to try to put an end to the curse. The plot is more or less a paint-by-numbers composite of Carrie, Unfriended and Final Destination.
There isn’t a lot to say about this film. The concept could have been made into something creepy but every opportunity for something haunting is thrown away on the loud-noise jump-scare device, seemingly without a second thought. There can be something to be said for using bland characters in horror films as they can stand as placeholders for the audience to project themselves onto, but in this case it misses the mark. Characters don’t develop far beyond the following characteristics: Laura – the main one, Marina – less charming Wednesday Addams, Friend A – is single, Friend B – has a boyfriend, Friend B’s boyfriend – is chubby and makes wisecracks, Laura’s boyfriend – dreamy medical student, computer-geek Kobe – we know he likes Laura because it’s mentioned twice and we see him look at her twice, (he’s also the only person to think critically about their situation in the whole movie), Cop A – is serious and apparently not very good at his job, Cop B – makes three very poorly timed jokes and is definitely not very good at his job.
Now, I know that a horror movie has other things to focus on rather than character development but when it’s impossible to care about any of the characters at all, each murder scene is just a countdown to another jump-scare with no stakes in the outcome. You might jump, but you probably won’t care.
The one thing that I will say in this film’s defence is that it has some very strong visual elements. These are nicely applied to transition shots as well as subtle motifs and “did I see that” moments in the background, and it can be genuinely disturbing in examples like Marina’s art, when it’s not just going for scary face close-ups. The CGI is a little lacking in some swarm-related shots, but it delivers pretty well overall.
All in all, there really isn’t anything new in this film. Rather, it’s a very standard horror film which attempts to be modern by incorporating social media deeply into its lack-of-plot. Unfortunately, even the use of social media as the medium for haunting isn’t original at this stage and this movie will most likely be forgotten by the time Facebook launches its next update.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Friend Request is released 22nd April 2016