Cyber based horror has become quite a popular subgenre in the last couple of years, 2015’s Unfriended being the other example that comes to mind. Friend Request is directed by Simon Verhoeven (No relation to Robocop director Paul), and is his first directorial feature that is not a comedy, and in the English language.
Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is a popular college student who is highly active on social media, which includes her Facebook account (totalling over 800 friends). She then receives a friend request from Marina Mills (Liesl Ahlers) a classmate she barely knows who has no Facebook friends. Out of pity she accepts the request. After being messaged constantly by Marina she decides to lie about going out for her birthday in order to avoid her, however photos from the evening end up on Facebook and soon after Marina attacks Laura at school before filming herself committing suicide, which is posted all over Facebook. Following the suicide Laura and her friends come under attack from a demonic force that appears to be Marina out for revenge.
Friend Request is a pleasantly surprising horror feature, which is well-acted by the ensemble. The dialogue between the characters is quite natural and creates a feeling of camaraderie between Laura and her friendship group in the opening scenes of the film. The overarching themes regarding our reliance on social media and how the platforms can manage and manipulate our lives are quite cleverly staged for the most part. Watching Laura’s social media being hijacked creates a realistic parallel with stories that are relatable for us watching. Sure maybe when it happens to us it isn’t a cyber-demon we went to college with, but having a Facebook Page which serves as an outlet for our thoughts, memories and, well, lives being hacked and seeing spam being sent from a source masquerading under the guise of our identity is an upsetting experience for most. We now see social media accounts as an extension of ourselves, and each other, and Friend Request uses this parallel to make the haunting Laura is experiencing relatable to the audience. However Despite this praise Friend Request suffers from one rather major flaw, it isn’t scary. It’s certainly jumpy, and had me leaping a couple of times with its scary demons occasionally popping out like demented Whack-a-moles. But it fails to create a sense of dread, or withhold an unsettling atmosphere that makes a great horror movie. The concept of fusing witchcraft with modern technology is quite interesting, but has been covered in previous films to better effect and in the final act Friend Request throws aside any attempt of being a disturbing social commentary in lieu of illogical narrative choices, that I will not disclose to any who wish to see the film. The music in the film is scored by Gary Go and he does a fine job instilling a chilling layer of texture in the latter parts of the movie.
Friend Request is an entertaining, thoughtful, film. But it lacks further detail to make it essential viewing, along with not being unsettling enough to be scary on a baser level. Having left the cinema I, in an absent minded fashion, checked my Facebook page almost immediately without thinking, which merited a chuckle. While there is clearly some observant commentary in the film it doesn’t transcend into horror at any point, which is a missed opportunity, but it is still relevant enough to entertain for 90 minutes or so if you’re in the mood for a jump-scare or two.
Review by Alexander Halsall