After Unfriended impressed last year with its surprisingly inventive and gruesome social media slashing, we had hoped that Friend Request would follow in those footsteps, rather than offering something along the lines of “the horror is online!” films like Stay Alive, Chatroom and Feardotcom (Feardotcom, anyone? Anyone?). Sadly, although there are some fun jolts and gruesome shocks to be had, Friend Request struggles to find anything new to say, feeling instead like something you’d half-remembered from a decade ago.
Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is a nice, popular psych sophomore who accepts a Facebook friend request from friendless goth outsider Marina (Liesl Ahlers). Marina comes on way too strong with constant messaging and fan art of the two of them together, and after an ugly confrontation, Laura decides to unfriend her. When Marina kills herself, Laura feels terrible, but it’s about to get a lot worse. Laura’s going to learn what it feels like to have no friends, one dead body at a time.
There are one or two sharp points made about social media (although not that many, given that Laura’s taking a module about online addiction), particularly the idea that your life is completely open to everybody to see, and the difficulty of simply stepping away from your computer, and her ticking friend counter is a nice visual touch.
For the most part, however, Friend Request plods along until it gets to the next gory set-piece. The first half hour is particularly trying, with bad dialogue, slow pacing, and a disappointing willingness to make the creepy villain an outsider who needs help. There’s a welcome cruel logic to Laura being cursed to become an outcast, but the film refuses to make her even slightly ambiguous, and as such Debnam-Carey (Fear The Walking Dead, The 100) is stranded in generic plucky victim territory. The rest of the cast don’t fare much better, although Connor Paolo (Stake Land, Gossip Girl) deserves mention for his wild-eyed twitchy tech geek.
It’s pretty insufferable for a while, but things do start to pick up once Marina starts to take her revenge. Although it’s total nonsense, the cast are straight-faced throughout silliness like hex-y computer code, and there are some satisfyingly unpleasant demises. As daft as they are, faceless men, dark corridors, mad eyes, black mirrors and a lot of wasps are much more fun than what came before.
Director Simon Verhoeven does a decent job mounting the jump scares once the lights go out and he’s obviously enjoying himself more once the film goes off-campus, but the script never gets better than tolerable. Some revelations about Marina seem promising but they become an excuse to take Laura to some creepy locations and you’ll never be in any doubt about where it’s going. It’s also worth noting that, if you find a lack of logic in horror films infuriating, this is not for you. Oh, and don’t get us started on the comedy cop.
It’s a film that’s oddly reminiscent of a bunch of 00s horrors you thought you’d forgotten, later Hellraiser sequels and Silent Hill cut-scenes. To say that we enjoyed it would be a stretch, but we jumped a few times and occasionally found ourselves smiling. In a few years, you might try to remember what that film about the goth girl who haunts Facebook and had all the wasps and mirrors was called. This is the one.
Friend Request is in cinemas now.