MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Friend Request’ will make you want to delete your account

Plagued with a ridiculous plot and even more ridiculous scares, this German-produced horror film is bereft of any weight

| September 23, 2017

Horror reflects our society at every turn, whether we realize it or not. “Rosemary’s Baby” depicted horror as a depiction of violence against women, “Dawn of the Dead” dealt with modern consumerism, “The People Under the Stairs” dealt with Reagan-era class divides and Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” tackled 21st century racism. Each of these films have shaped horror into the genre it is today, because they were able to fashion a story of horror around a very real and present issue with subtle dexterity. That being said, with each technological advancement that we encounter, there’s a form of media that solidifies it in time forever. In 2015, the social media craze was first satirized via horror in “Unfriended,” a film that took place entirely on a computer screen during a Skype call gone bad. While it initially looked stupid, “Unfriended” actually ended up being quite effective in its simple innovation on the genre. While the topic of social media is far from exclusive, it was a bit strange when “Friend Request” began making the rounds of the internet very soon after “Unfriended” in Oct. 2015. While starring American characters, the film was produced in Germany and shot in South Africa, and was distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures in Germany, though was not able to swing distribution in the U.S., leaving it on the shelf for nearly two years until Entertainment Studios picked the film up for distribution. Many have accused the filmmakers of copying “Unfriended,” but I’m willing to give the film the benefit of the doubt in that both were likely produced simultaneously.

But that doesn’t mean they’re equal, because while “Unfriended” was fun and unique, “Friend Request” is very much so not.

Laura Woodson (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is a popular college student in her sophomore year. When a quiet, strange girl, Marina (Liesl Ahlers) from her Psychology class friends her on Facebook and wants to be friends, she accepts, but soon finds herself constantly being messaged, called, tagged in posts and generally stalked. After not inviting Marina to her birthday party, Marina violently lashes out against Laura, who doesn’t understand why Marina thinks they are such good friends. Tired of the hassle, Laura deletes Marina off of Facebook, but after returning to class, Laura learns that Marina has committed suicide. After Marina’s death, Laura soon finds her Facebook posting videos of Marina’s suicide, and soon realizes that the dark force posting things on her Facebook is also beginning to pick off her friends one by one.

Listen, I tried to make this film seem as legitimate as I possibly could, but off the bat, this movie is stupid. Not int he same way that “Unfriended” was stupid, but just in the general sense that the film is stupid, and no one really does anything to change that. The plot sounds laughable because it is laughable, and however scary the film might try to be, it just can’t move past its incredibly funny premise. The worst part about this is that “Friend Request” isn’t even scary, so when it tries to cover up something laughable with something serious and dire, it never really succeeds, relying heavily on jump-scares and clichés more than trying anything new. Even worse is that nothing in the film really makes much sense, as the cops are maddeningly clueless, the character motivations are never expounded upon and the “mythology” the film tries to paint never is truly explained. “Friend Request” is a big thematic mess.

I will give “Friend Request” a few things that save it from being a disaster, though. The cast really tries here, especially Debnam-Carey, who really is a likable, if completely dull lead to the film. Debnam-Carey has a real knack for conveying emotion and even when the film is completely ridiculous, she keeps a straight face and really does her best to act her way out of this film. Connor Paolo as one of Laura’s closest friends is also quite good in the film, too, even if he is given much less to work with here. Then again, no one is really given anything to work with at all here.

The film is also complemented by a really effective musical score by Gary Go and Martin Todsharow, who create a really lively, electronic score that not only matches the theme of the film well, but really keeps the film feeling kinetic and fluid, even when it begins to stagnate, “Friend Request” remains an aurally sound experience.

The film is also surprisingly well-shot. This isn’t a Roger Deakins image we’re looking at here, but for a low-budget, foreign-produced horror film, the production values are quite nice here. Cinematographer Jo Helm captures the South African locale quite well here, and creates a slick, attractive film that stands on its own until any sort of visual effect has to come up.

This is where “Friend Request” begins to sour even more. The film isn’t scary not only because it’s cliché and jump-scare ridden, but because the visual effects, including the special make-up in the film are really low-quality and fake looking. Even then, the film didn’t have to utilize a lot of the visual effects it ended up using, but instead uses them to keep the audience’s attention during low periods of the film. I’m not sure had the special effects been any more believable, it would’ve made “Friend Request” better, but it sure would’ve given it a bit more credibility and sleekness to match the solid photography a bit more.

The film also doesn’t use its technological base of a storyline for anything good really. Sure, Marina kills her friends through Facebook, but there’s never any real message that goes along with it. Horror films don’t really need to have “messages,” but if you’re going to use social media as the vehicle on a critique of society, more specifically millennial society, then use it properly, satirize the shit out of it, and make us think twice about picking our phones up.

“Friend Request” also sullies a perfectly good R-rating. While the film does make it to R-rated territory with occasional violence and language, the film feels more like a PG-13+ more than anything else. Going that far to accept the reduced box-office returns with an R-rating, you might as well embrace the restricted aspect of the film with some bite, but instead, even with an R-rating, “Friend Request” feels oddly neutered.

And then there’s the kicker: “Friend Request” is entirely unmemorable. Sure, it might’ve had some decent elements about it, but I can guarantee you that within two weeks, I’ll find a film with better acting, music and aesthetic, leaving “Friend Request” in the dust. This film has nothing to offer that you haven’t seen not only a million times before, but done infinitely better before.

I love bad horror films, but the contingency is that a bad horror film has to be able to entertain me, even if it can’t scare me. Movies like “Shut In” and “Wish Upon” were valid uses of my time because I found them to be entertaining and fun, even if they failed as horror films. “Friend Request” unfortunately doesn’t get to share in the glory of other, guilty pleasure horror films like those because it simply didn’t entertain me. I pretty much knew from the outset that “Friend Request” wasn’t going to scare me, but I at least was holding out for the film to be dumb fun, but if one can’t even pull that off, whatever decent elements the film might hold on a production standpoint are all but moot to me. Without any sort of scathing satire or even any sort of cheap thrills, “Friend Request” is an account you’ll want to delete.

1.5/5

Photo courtesy of Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by: Simon Verhoeven
Starring: Alycia Debnam-Carey, William Moseley, Connor Paolo, Brit Morgan, Brooke Markham, Sean Marquette, Liesl Ahlers, Shashawnee Hall.
Runtime: 92 minutes
Rating: R for horror violence, disturbing images and language.

Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures presents, a Wiedemann & Berg Film production, in co-production with Seven Pictures and Two Oceans Productions, in association with The Exchange, media placement services by Global Pictures Media, LLC, a film by Simon Verhoeven, “Friend Request”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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