Step into the horrors of Social Media and what it means to not have 0 friends with Simon Verhoeven’s Friend Request. A modern take on the horror genre that might have come just a little too late.
Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is a popular girl attending college. She has lots of friends which means a vibrant social life as well as a handsome yet bland boyfriend that she is able to show off on her –totally not- facebook profile. People watching from afar would seem to have a lot to envy and it is established from the beginning that Laura takes her life for granted in a lot of ways since socialising on and offline comes easily to her.
Things start to get uncomfortable when a girl in one of her classes, Marina (Liesl Ahlers) latches onto her and sends her a friend request. Laura thinks nothing of it and accepts the request of this lonely stranger out of a desire to be nice but she quickly regrets it when Marina moves up to stalking her very quickly. This takes the form of a barrage of messages and a creepy Photoshop edits showing them together. Eventually Laura can’t take any more and unfriends her which results in Marina taking her own life. Shortly after that people around Laura start dying and the videos depicting their deaths are posted to her profile which causes people to start unfriending her out of disgust.
This is definitely a film of two halves, or more accurately one third followed by another two thirds. I found the first third to be pretty interesting. The social media backdrop as well as the apparent perfection that Laura enjoys in her life are established really well. The montage of the time she spends with her friends and boyfriend while having it all committed to her social media profile was really nicely done and I actually found the score somewhat memorable. It all came together well and provided a decent commentary on how young people live their lives online these days.
I also liked the idea of someone feeling lonely and getting a little carried away when someone showed them the smallest gesture of kindness. For a while, Marina’s relentless messaging is something that could be understood as many of us have come across someone who we feel sorry for initially and find them uncomfortable to be around after a while. It’s not something that many people would be proud to admit to but it does happen and the default reaction might not be one we’d be proud of.
This is exactly what happens to Laura who panics and tries to cut all digital ties with her which has the aforementioned negative consequences. Marina’s spirit takes her revenge by slowly tearing Laura’s life apart by targeting her best friends and tarnishing her reputation so much that people don’t want to be around her. This is represented by her friend count declining steadily from nearly 900.
Once everything is established things become less interesting as the film relies on tired jumpscares and uninteresting scenarios that result in the deaths of Laura’s friends. Most of the characters are so poorly defined that having them killed one by one had very little impact. No time was spent lingering on how losing her friends impacted her either so it all felt fairly by the numbers as far as horror scenarios go. There is also a plot around trying to track the origins of the mysterious Marina but none of that pays off in any worthwhile way either.
Juggling these elements completely drags the film down to the point that it became something of a chore to watch. I lost interest in what was going fairly quickly and suffered through the film going through the motions before reaching a conclusion that felt unearned due to a lack of focus. I won’t spoil what that ending is but it could easily have worked if the film had continued along the lines that it started.
Alycia Debnam-Carey is an excellent lead who carries the film really well. It helps that Laura is largely fairly well written. She’s likable, sympathetic, smart and has plenty of agency within the plot. She is a far cry from your usual scream queen and shows real courage yet a realistic sense of terror when horrible things she can’t understand begin to happen. I’ve always enjoyed Alycia Debnam-Carey as an actress as readers of my reviews of The 100 will know and she definitely doesn’t disappoint here. She was certainly someone I could root for throughout the film so from that perspective it held my interest.
It’s a shame that Marina wasn’t handled better as more could have been made by her essentially being Laura’s opposite. Marina is as unpopular as Laura is popular, introverted as she is extroverted and so on. If they had played up the differences between the two then I think this might have been a far better experience and it would have been easier to understand why Marina goes to such extremes when her friendship is rejected. Instead she comes across as a largely empty horror antagonist. Liesl Ahlers does a pretty good job with what she is given but really doesn’t have much to work with. Her early scenes showed a social awkwardness and hints that she was afraid of putting herself out there but a lack of screen time and proper motivation quickly glosses over this in favour of the uninteresting horror.
There is a good film in here somewhere that never quite makes it to the surface. The premise was somewhat laughable but I was initially willing to buy into it due to the early positive groundwork into Laura’s life and how her identity is largely defined by her online presence. Bland jumpscares, poorly developed expendable characters and an antagonist that had the potential to be interesting but never gets there due to severe missteps in establishing her character. At least Alyica Debnam-Carey is always watchable and it’s a little better than the Supernatural episode with a similar premise so that’s something.
- Alycia Debnam-Carey’s immensely watchable performance
- Laura being a fairly well written character
- strong early scenes that introduce the premise well
- the over-reliance on jumpscares
- poorly developed supporting characters
- wasted potential for a decent antagonist
- terrible pacing caused by juggling too many elements