The sheer idea of a social media based horror movie should immediately send me running the other direction, but last year’s Unfriended ended up being surprisingly enjoyable, making terrific use of its gimmicky premise. I figured I was up for another go this year, so this time around we have Friend Request. Alas, 2016 is not as strong a year for the world of Facebook themed horror.
Laura is a college student who is way popular. She has something like 900 Facebook friends and everybody totally loves Laura. She seems like a pretty good person too, so that’s cool. One day she receives a friend request from Marina, a lonely girl at the college who hangs by herself and doesn’t seem to have any friends. They begin a bit of a friendship, though it doesn’t take long for Laura to realize Marina is super clingy and perhaps a tad crazy. Laura tells Marina she can’t come to her birthday party because it’s going to be a small affair with just Laura and her boyfriend. This is of course absolutely not true and all the pictures of her and her friends are posted on Facebook for Marina to see. She’s not super pumped about being lied to and confronts Laura, who tells her crazy ass to take a hike. Marina then kills herself on her web cam. So that’s the end of the movie right? Nope! That’s 20 minutes in and then Marina is a crazy ghost who starts murdering everyone. Oh you kids and your silly social media problems.
You remember Screamer videos? I guess they still exist but I don’t think they are nearly as prominent as they used to be way back. Basically you start watching this completely innocuous video of a kitten playing or an adorable rabbit or whatever it is that people typically watch videos of. Then once you’re lulled into the comfort and security of a super cute bunny rabbit, a bloody face will pop in and scream at you or something, with the volume jumping up about 18 levels. It had all of us on edge with any video we were sent by anybody ever, usually skimming through it on mute first to ensure it was ok for safe viewing. Anyway, this is a Screamer video extended into a full length feature film. Laura even watches one of these videos near the beginning of the movie for the first of what will be many, many cheap jump scares.
The first time Marina’s scary face appears in a monitor, it’s a jolting moment. Then it keeps happening. I suppose it’s not always a computer monitor, she does pop up in other places. But I can almost guarantee you that if a character is looking at a screen of any kind, Marina’s face is going to pop up in there at some point. What starts as effective becomes so overused that I became completely numb to its tricks. Unfortunately, Friend Request doesn’t have any other good tricks up its sleeve.
The opening part of the movie, before Marina becomes an evil Facebook ghost, is pretty effective and made me think this movie was going to be something completely different than it ends up becoming. I thought maybe we were heading towards a story of a lonely girl who becomes far too obsessed with the popular girl and then eventually takes things too far, likely in the form of murder. It was almost disappointing when it turned into a standard sadistic ghost story.
The social media angle is prominent throughout. Of course all of this is triggered by Laura accepting Marina’s Facebook friend request (I’m just now realizing that I don’t think they ever actually show that this is Facebook, or mention it by name), and whenever someone else receives the same friend request from her spirit, that’s how we know they are about to be killed. All of the murders are being posted to Laura’s Facebook page as they happen, and she is unable to delete them or her overall page. And yes, it’s a little funny to have a serious horror movie where one of the biggest problems is an inability to delete a social media page. Also there’s a neat ongoing visual where it shows Laura’s friend number plummeting as everyone thinks she is posting these horrible videos herself. Overall, it’s used pretty effectively, although again it’s not nearly on the same level as Unfriended.
Much of the story is centered around the mystery of just what Marina’s deal is (every time I write her name I end up with Martina first and it’s driving me insane…just thought you might want to know) and why she’s a crazy ass ghost. It doesn’t make for a very compelling mystery much of the time as too much of the movie is spent with Laura trying to convince people something strange is going on and nobody believing her. I will say that the pay-off at the end is well done, even if the journey there is rarely that engaging.
There is some interesting visual stuff going on. Marina’s Facebook posts almost entirely consist of these twisted pictures and animations, the latter of which we often get to see play out. It’s a unique touch in a movie that could have used more to help it stand-out.
Friend Request is so thoroughly mediocre that I’m finding it hard to recommend or warn you away from it. Unfriended was a genuine surprise in how good it was and this one just can’t follow suit. If you are going to watch one social media based horror movie tonight, Unfriended continues to be the best choice. We’ll see if that changes in 2017 when we get Murder Tweet, Hell Vine and Snapchat with the Devil.