No spoilers – not really -but there’s a trend in recent horror movies where they have a decent idea or interesting set-up, go through the requisite jump-scares (fair enough) but then they have no clue how to end it. It’s like they get to the last page of the script and have no clue what’s supposed to happen. You see this in so many movies, and you see it in Friend Request. An alternate opinion is that you know exactly how it’s going to end based on roughly the first ten minutes. That’s exactly how I felt with Friend Request – I knew within the first ten minutes exactly what the final scene was probably going to be, even though there was enough potential to take it in different directions. Even though that final scene and the last pieces of set up don’t necessarily make sense, but they kept painting themselves into a corner….
Simon Verhoeven (no relationship to Mr. Robocop) directs this modern pseudo techno-horror movie. The opening scenes introduce us to Laura, a more or less popular University student going through all the usual stuff millennials apparently go through – posting selfies and pictures with their friends, drinking, clubbing, studying. She is a sweet woman, nothing special – in other words she could be you. Feeling sorry for one of the loners in her class, she strikes up a friendship with a girl called Marina. She’s a little odd, artistic, but soon becomes very clingy and angry to the point that Laura has to unfriend her. Marina kills herself on camera, and Laura feels guilty. Things get weirder when someone apparently takes over Laura’s profile, posting videos of the suicide and causing the police to sniff around and people to begin unfriending her.
Things start out well enough – I liked the set up of the suicide from the outset before briefly flicking back in time, and all of the online stuff was authentic. The friendship in the little group felt genuine, but none of the characters have much time or writing spent on making them feel human. There’s the best friend, the boyfriend, the geeky one, the funny one, and the other one, but they’re merely there to set up the kills and jumpscares. The scares are by the numbers but effective enough, at least at the start. Once you’ve seen one you have an idea of what is coming and they lack any tension beyond waiting for the boom and appearance. There’s isn’t enough exploration of the mythology behind it all and it eventually becomes too procedural like The Ring remake as the survivors race to appease the evil stalking them.
Verhoeven doesn’t direct with any notable flair and as mentioned the writing is precisely what you would expect from a teen-oriented modern horror movie. There is the bewildering inclusion of some keystone cops antics, with a pair of detectives who don’t seem to give a damn about what is going on and who I imagine were supposed to be there for comic relief but add nothing beyond wondering why they are there. There isn’t a lot of gore to be found for anyone worried about or looking for it, the performances are fine with talent such as Alycia Debnam Carey doing what she can. I’m surprised this made such little money at the Box Office – less than 10 million doesn’t sound right- but if that’s the case then this clearly isn’t something audiences were looking for. It’s better than the numbers suggest, it’s worth streaming, but the central ideas of cyber-stalking and internet addiction which are worth exploring through a horror lens aren’t fully realized. As is the case with many of these types of films – there’s a better film here, but it’s not the one we’ve been given.