Director: Simon Verhoeven
Starring: Alycia Debnam-Carey, William Moseley, Connor Paolo
Release Date: 22nd June 2016 (UK)
If you were unfortunate enough to be horrified by Unfriended and the trailer for Friend Request, it is forgivable to assume this would be diabolical avoid-at-all-costs horror drivel with a silly gimmick at its core. Though it is rather forgettable, fans of the genre should at least make the effort to watch Friend Request, which at least makes some effort with story and largely succeeds in being more than a one trick pony.
Laura Woodson may not be the popular girl or Little Miss Sorority, but she is your average social college student. She has a few friends in person and a lot more online, usually those she meets on a night out or passes by in class. Enter Marina, the slightly cliched goth looking outsider, hiding under a hoodie and behind the laptop. Mocked by most, she finds herself unable to fit in, until a casual conversation with Laura sparks a pitiful obsession.
After snubbing her for a birthday night out, Marina finds pictures of the event on Facebook and spirals out of control. The short lived friendship comes to an end, much to the relief of Laura’s social circle. Shortly after, Marina commits suicide, and then the film really gets going.
The trailer does very little justice to how the plot evolves from being merely a warning against the promiscuous and irresponsible use of social media. What we’re actually presented with is a supernatural horror finding a context in the digital age, one which deals more with notions of the occult, and a curse individual whose life is painfully torn apart. Social media may have been the trigger that propelled the narrative into its second act, but this is not merely about a fear of technology so much a concern over our understanding and application of it. In some ways Marina represents the old-fashioned and the outdated through her embodiment of traditional horror film themes, and her displacement in a modern narrative, struggling to adapt to the expectation of a digitally empowered audience is the root cause of the horror. We are Laura, and this is really our collective story.
However, Friend Request does demonstrate the effectiveness of tried of tested conventions through their unfortunate absence. From the offset Laura was our final girl – this is no surprise, and though much was done to portray her as good-natured and deserving of her status, the lack of depth in her character made it difficult to fully justify Marina’s motivation. To some extent this is mitigated as the plot concludes.
Character development is the biggest flaw and the police officers are frankly diabolical in every respect. Nonetheless this is a film that delivers much more than you might think. Friend Request severely undersells itself in the trailer, and make no mistake this will hardly stand the test of time – a heavy reliance on cheap scare tactics cements its lack of originality – but it might be worth the 90 mins of horror fans who lack better offerings.