Does plot matter in a horror film? For classic horror movies, undoubtedly so. Over time, the genre has become watered down to 90 minute films that rely heavily on jump scares and have little, if any, thought put into them. Such is the case with Friend Request, a film about a college student’s desire to find out why a mysterious student killed herself after the two quickly became friends on social media.
One thing Friend Request has going for it is its attention to detail when it comes to the film’s back story. The student who committed suicide, Marina (Liesl Ahlers) is involved in witchcraft, and the film does a decent job of modernizing this concept and pairing it with society’s obsession with computers. The Black Mirrors that old witches would use is replaced by the students’ devices, which are a black reflective screen when turned off. Sounds interesting, but as the plot plays out, the novelty quickly wears off.
Like most horror films, Friend Request does not boast a star-studded cast. These actors are fresh faces for a reason; all performances are mediocre and unconvincing through and through. How did William Moseley, of The Chronicles of Narnia fame come to this? He plays Tyler, the boyfriend of the film’s protagonist.
While no one’s going to be winning any awards for Best Performance, it wouldn’t surprise me if Connor Paolo picked up a Razzie for his role of Kobe. As the film begins to heighten its sloughish pace, desperately trying to reach climax, a twist comes out of left field that Kobe isn’t afraid to kill both protagonist Laura (Alycia Carey) or her boyfriend Tyler in order to save himself from Marina’s spells. Talk about contrived.
Friend Request is visually as cheap as its plot, with little artistry put into even simple things like framing or color tonality. One interesting scene involves Laura discovering a mirror that frequently popped up in Marina’s social media posts. The mirror itself and the execution of how it appears in the apartment is well done, as is all of the artwork that Marina posted on social media.
In a film where a suspected witch commits suicide so as to haunt college students, are you supposed to find the villain likable? Laura and her friends were all so insufferable and obsessed with their presence on social media that it was hard not to root for Marina to give them what they had coming. Ahlers has very little screen time, but of the entire cast, her dedication to portraying Marina as an obsessive cyber-stalker is at least well done.
As Marina begins to haunt Laura and her friends via social media, the film wades between making prescient thoughts about our addiction to our devices and just being plain cringeworthy. The typical blonde, Olivia (Brit Morgan) delivers the groan-worthy: “Unfriend that dead bitch!” The fact that her haunting would take place later while she was leaving the shower wrapped only in a towel furthers the fact that Friend Request sticks to bad horror shtik even though its lore was promising. Even putting a modern spin on it had potential, but was executed in a way that just feels trite and cliché.
When Laura begins to become consumed with stopping Marina, boyfriend Tyler makes a good point:
It’s called cyber-stalking for a reason. They can’t stalk you if you’re not online.
It’s a point that shoots the entire movie down the drain. Would any of the events in the film taken place if the college students weren’t addicted to their life as it appears online? Or…more importantly…would any of this had happened if the Facebook-esque social media site in the film had actually just removed the profiles Marina (and later, Laura) had up that were distributing videos of student’s deaths?
All death scenes in Friend Request focused on suicide, with it being assumed that Marina was driving each of them mad enough to kill themselves in order to get revenge on Laura for not being her friend. (Yes…really.) This just ends up completely contradicting the film’s backstory, though. If Marina was a witch all along, one who ended up torturing young boys who bullied her, why would she go to such extremes to enact revenge on Laura, when Laura really just blew her off a couple times?
The film’s ending further gives the rest of its plot a middle finger, when it’s revealed Laura succumbs to Marina and takes her place, going back to college and looking for fresh prey. Was this Marina’s goal from the get go? Was she freeing her own soul by finding another to take her place? These are interesting things to ponder, but it’s unlikely the film gives a shit, considering how all these elements were just slapped together in the end as a way to conclude things. When it seems like the filmmaker’s can’t even be bothered to care, why should the audience?
Overall, Friend Request lacks any scares (any tense moment in the film is predicated on the film’s score providing a jump scare.) The potential that its backstory had fizzled and was abandoned by even the writers. The film does have a good message about the problems of being addicted to the internet. It’s just a shame that the poor execution means this message will be left on read.