FRIEND REQUEST (Warner Bros.)
Dir. Simon Verhoeven, Script. Matthew Ballen, Philip Koch, Simon Verhoeven
Cast: Alycia Debnam-Carey
Plot: Laura is popular. Marina is unpopular. Marina desperately attempts to be Laura’s friend. Laura refuses. The ensuing shit goes down.
Before I write a review, I like to look at the film’s Wikipedia page just to make sure my information is correct, and when looking up Friend Request I came across a line that summed up my exact thoughts: “It serves as a German version of the 2014 American horror film by Blumhouse, Unfriended“. Unsurprising to me, it seems that Friend Request is the black sheep of the social-media-horror family; not as brave or as willing to commit to its gimmick as its pretty strong brother, and not as effective or well thought out either.
I actually want to start out, however, by giving this film a bit of credit – as scares go, I’ve seen worse. Director Simon Verhoeven (no relation to Paul, the Robocop director and confirmed lunatic for the boob-filled apocalypse of Showgirls) has a couple of visual tricks that are actually quite clever, and with a better screenplay could have been utilised really well. However, that’s where my praise ends for him: the film doesn’t feel structured at all, rather a lumbering process of which the most enjoyment I gained from it was counting down the seconds and the increasing number of corpses one-by-one. Barring the actual horror stuff, the film looks like it was shot on an iPhone 3GS with an inferior Instagram filter.
The sound in the jump-scares (yes, its another jumper, folks) is really good as well, sometimes even making this seasoned veteran jolt up from his growing slumber; while the actual visual components of the scares are very tame and probably won’t stick in the mind, the sound effects preceding this are definitely enough for a cheap scare, and the timing of them is well thought out also. But its the actual purpose of the scares that causes Friend Request to falter – frequently the actual scares have little to no motivation, and even if there is logic behind one of the ‘takedowns’, it often ends up either contradicting the laws of physics, or the previous logic that it used. The film’s screenwriters seem a bit muddled in quite how to utilise the supernatural element of the story, and offer very sparse explanation as to its true nature, but enough for you to feel the absence of it.
In fact, the three-strong writing team seem like they were a little muddled on every aspect of the film – the characters are cookie-cutter stereotypes at best, and even protagonist Laura is only given the tag of being ‘popular’, as if that was an actual trait. Her friends, whose purpose in the narrative is to die in frustrating, illogical and increasingly rushed manners, are fleshed out even less. And while I know that horror films aren’t really the place to see Oscar winning acting most of the time, the cast of relative unknowns don’t do the film any favours. Alycia Debnam-Carey’s performance has the emotional range of a plant-pot, and in one other special case of acting depravity, William Moseley delivers a display so flat as Debnam-Carey’s beau that, if Charles Darwin had lived to see this picture, he would have written a further book on the perceived evolutionary qualities of wood.
And just when you thought that was it, there’s an issue with how long it feels. I was stunned when I walked out of the cinema and found that Friend Request was only 92 minutes long, so stunned in fact I had to check my clock again. Friend Request feels like it takes an age to run, and that’s simply down to pretty amateurish direction by Verhoeven, who adds decent visuals to his horror but at the expense of structure and build-up, as well as a screenplay that unfortunately gets mixed-up in its own logic. And unfortunately, as there’s a number of decent things that make you want to like it, Friend Request just doesn’t commit as much as Unfriended did, instead almost retreating to familiar formula.
BEST WATCHED: This might work at a Halloween party, but Unfriended does it better.
The film’s newcomer lead, Alycia Debnam-Carey, has a role in a film that I don’t think any of us will ever see, called Liked. But while I wouldn’t usually mention a film that seemingly doesn’t have a major future, this synopsis was so priceless I just had to share some of it with you all: it is written with the finesse of a ten-year-old who wants to publish novels because they’ve read Harry Potter once. Here’s some highlights:
- “One day, Chad meets Roxy, who is cooler, smarter and funnier than all the rest.”
- “Roxy is totally into ‘Chad’ online.”
- “In the screen capture style of UNFRIENDED, LIKED is a Cyrano de Bergerac comedy for the digital age.”
I won’t spell out the irony of that last bit for you.