Movie Review: “Friend Request” (R)
It’s been a bit of a long road for “Friend Request.” After sitting on the shelf since completion in 2014, Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures has decided to to release this horror film just in time for Halloween, and while it’s not quite the train wreck some folks might be anticipating, what’s most disheartening about “Friend Request” is that it squanders a surprising amount of potential.
In “Friend Request,” popular university student Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) finds herself the subject of a shy and withdrawn student’s endless fascination. Instead of listening to the advice of her popular buddies and staying away from odd and lonely Marina (Liesl Ahlers), Laura engages in a bit of a friendship with the girl. This friendship extends to the Facebook world, but in the real world, Laura keeps things at an arm’s length. Eventually, Marina feels slighted by Laura and her friends after they fail to invite her to a birthday celebration. This ultimately leads to a heated confrontation on campus and this is when the plot of “Friend Request” is truly set into motion, a plot that involves a vengeful being and the portal that is Facebook.
“Friend Request” is both a cautionary tale about the perils and pitfalls that come with being part of the social media generation and also makes timely statements about bullying. But instead of following through and really delving into these issues — making for a provocative, social-commentary-laced chiller — this would-be horror show degenerates into a generic college-student-terrorized-by-a-supernatural-presence movie of the week. It’s a routine bore in which a group of twenty-somethings are picked off one by one by a malevolent force with payback on its mind. In the end, it all plays a bit like a much less creative version of “Final Destination.”
Among other things, “Friend Request” is a little insensitive in the way that it takes social misfit and recluse Marina and completely demonizes her instead of making her a real person with real complexity. Yes, I get that this is a horror film, but it’s kind of uninspiring how “Friend Request” takes the easy way out and simply turns Marina into a psycho instead of truly exploring her feelings. “Friend Request” could have just as easily been Stephen King’s “Carrie” for the Facebook set had it just paid a little more attention to character. Even the little-seen indie horror flick “Some Kind of Hate,” which also offers up bullying as a primary theme, managed to bring empathy to its terrifying antagonist. While there is certainly a cautionary message at play here, “Friend Request” avoids such hefty ambitions, and in the end, it suffers because of it.
Simon Verhoeven and his screenwriting team do themselves no favors by taking this picture in a by-the-numbers direction, and its a real shame because the film does open relatively strongly and even manages to offer up a couple of genuinely creepy moments. For the most part, though, “Friend Request” resorts to cheap jump scares of the cat-jumping-on-the-window-sill variety before making its way towards an uneventful final act. This film is also punctuated by odd, distracting bursts of humor, mostly by way of a pair of cartoonish investigators who are seemingly hellbent on blaming Laura for the strange happenings that begin occurring after Marina’s disappearance.
Again, what really makes “Friend Request” such a disappointment is all the squandered potential, the faint glimpses at what could have been. Instead, this film never rises to the challenge and never takes any risks. It all just feels like something we’ve seen countless times before. In short, this is a friend request you’d be wise to deny.