"There are many good movies out right now. Friend Request is not one of them."
by Steve Pulaski
Friend Request is a fragrantly unoriginal, bland piece of work, and this is coming from the same person who liked The Bye Bye Man and kind of loved Wish Upon. Existing as what Roger Ebert used to call a "dead teenager movie" - a horror/thriller that begins with numerous, living teenagers and eventually concludes with none or few of them left alive - Friend Request comes two years after Unfriended, another technology-driven chiller I appreciated thanks to its computer-screen setting and commitment to form. The only commitment Simon Verhoeven's throwaway movie makes is its loyalty to keeping the quality standard for this genre abysmally low.
The film revolves around Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey), a college socialite who befriends a quiet young girl named Marina (Liesl Ahlers) out of pure pity and pays the price for not responding to her barrage of personal messages. Marina becomes intrusive, with her attempt to angrily confront Laura for not inviting her to her birthday party in front of the whole school backfiring, resulting in Laura removing her as a friend online. Not long after, Marina kills herself in a brutal manner and posts the video online, particularly on Laura's page where all her friends witness the act and blame her.
Soon, Laura's friends (Brit Morgan, Brooke Markham) and boyfriend (William Moseley) realize their social media pages are out of control, with Marina adding them as friends shortly before their violent deaths. Their accounts remain unable to be deactivated, and Laura must now watch her friends succumb to a violent death and her number of friends on the internet drop significantly over the course of days.
Screenwriters Verhoeven, Matthew Ballen, and Philip Koch appear to be warning Facebook and Twitter users that the social platforms leave one vulnerable to mentally unstable, vindictive witches bypassing HTML coding and exacting lethal revenge that transcends even the nastiest stories of cyberstalking. Perhaps a spoof PSA would've done the trick in addition to being far shorter and most likely not requiring a ticket purchase to watch it.
Take note of how my plot synopsis lacked any identification of the social media platform too, for it's almost a given that the people behind the shockingly expensive $10 million horror film couldn't shell out the money to license the use of Facebook. Instead, they resort to painstakingly recreating a layout and color scheme where picking out the subtle differences is the source of most of the film's enjoyment. For example, the "Like" button is instead written out as "Thumbs Up," "Share" is now "Spread," and if you look carefully, there are no advertisements or logos on the webpage to identify the site nor does anyone in the film mention any particular name. It's the textbook example of cheap filmmaking.
There are many good movies out right now. Friend Request is not one of them. Perhaps you're still craving going to the theater to watch a horror movie this weekend, to which I respond by saying even if you've seen and discussed It by now, Darren Aronofsky's mother! is a challenging and rewarding experience that offers as many better-crafted jolts than Friend Request offers lackluster characters. It also doesn't use its central device as little more than a gimmick that proves irrelevant by the film's conclusion. As always, choose wisely, for yourself and in hopes that studios continue wanting to make and produce those "good movies" you keep talking about.
Steve's Grade: D