FRIEND REQUEST (2016)
Directed by Simon Verhoeven
Everyone has that one friend on Facebook they don’t like much: the sort of overly needy oddity they keep on their list out of sympathy. Now imagine that person only ten times worse, plus a practicing witch, and you got the premise for Friend Request: the new supernatural horror from German director Simon Verhoeven. How much you will take to this is largely dependent on if this premise appeals to you, as this cautionary tale of technology gone wrong is effectively The Ring for the Snapchat generation.
The oddity in question is trichotillomaniac goth Marina (Ahlers): the psych class weirdo with no Facebook friends contacts and an unhealthy love for all things macabre. That and, unfortunately, Laura (Debnam Carey) who accepts her social media invitation. However, Marina’s increasingly clingy affection goes unrequited and soon she’s hanging herself from the rafters in a destructive self-pity. It’s here that the film goes from thriller to horror as, before she commits suicide, Marina is able to harness the powers of the occult. As such she returns with the sole intent of making Laura feel just as lonely as she’s been, leaving her with that dreaded 0 friends. This results in Facebook stalking on steroids with a heavy body count, as she targets Laura’s circle of friends in increasingly violent ways and turns the rest of the college against her. Thankfully, as with Sadako before her, Marina has left a series of fiendish clues to her whereabouts. These take the form of cool jagged and gothic animations, which give the movie a cache of motifs to exploit throughout. But can Laura and her love triangle of current (Moseley) and ex (Paolo) partners stop her before it’s too late?
To older genre fans, that likely don’t know their Reddit from their Tumblr, there’s really not much on offer save for the interesting combo of ancient curse and cutting edge tech. The plot follows a formula you’ll have seen many times before, with many of the same problems e.g. characters hearing a noise, then walking down dark corridors alone towards it. Also, similar deaths have been done better elsewhere and the character arcs are as standard as you can get (a problem amplified by the villain bordering on an emo stereotype). Furthermore, the breakneck pacing means the movie’s many murders have minimal emotional impact, despite generally solid performances all round. This means audiences will be as unmoved as the largely unnecessary comic-relief cops. In short it’s a horror film that a lot of horror fans won’t like.
Yet I doubt the filmmakers are really going for people such as myself, that are days away from turning 30. Rather this is a young person’s movie: something made obvious by everything from the attractive, and fast-paced, multimedia presentation (that sees much of the story told through Facebook pictures, friend counters and Skype boxes) to the high energy soundtrack that thumps along beside it. Verhoeven has a great eye for the screen and does an exemplary job of using internet iconography to combine themes with visual story telling. Sure, it’s not the slow, brooding horror your dad liked – but then nor is it supposed to be. Friend Request is as contemporary as they come and proud of it. As such, the teen audience it’s surely intended for, that maybe haven’t got much of a grounding in scary movies, will devour this. Thus depending on your age and experience then add or chop a star.