Friend Request. 2016. Directed by Simon Verhoeven. Screenplay by Verhoeven, Matthew Ballen, & Phillip Koch.
Starring Alycia Debnam-Carey, William Moseley, Connor Paolo, Brit Morgan, Brooke Markham, Sean Marquette, Liesl Ahlers, Shashawnee Hall, Susan Danford, Lee Raviv, & Nicholas Pauling. Wiedemann & Berg Filmproduktion/Seven Pictures/Two Oceans Production (TOP).
Not Rated. 92 minutes.
I was one of the few people who actually found Unfriended a lot of fun. Not perfect, or near it. Just plain old fashion fun. Also made good use of its gimmick, being told solely through webcams and the various computer screens of the characters. Friend Request doesn’t opt for the gimmick. Rather, director (and one of the script’s co-writers) Simon Verhoeven goes more for the story in order to use its whole online scenario to get at more complicated, sinister aspects. The story isn’t anything convoluted – a young, lonely outcast befriends a sweet, popular type, only eventually she gets too clingy and her new popular friend decides to cut the poor lonely girl out of her life; then the outcast commits suicide. What follows is similar to the other aforementioned horror movie.
But where Unfriended doesn’t particularly get into any origins of the entity controlling the forces swirling around its characters, Friend Request moves into the supernatural realm and allows the internet to become just as haunted as any decrepit old houses on a dark, isolated road.
With a few bits here or there that could’ve been better, I’d be kidding myself, and lying to you, if I didn’t admit this little flick is an effective, chilling bit of modern horror using its premise wisely. Makes you think twice about who you might have on your friends list, too.
Personally, until Fear the Walking Dead I didn’t see Alycia Debnam-Carey in anything. She’s great on the show, hopefully her character won’t die anytime soon because she is good fun, a solid young actress whom I had no idea was Australian! Alycia’s able to provide a very genuine lady whose predicament is all too easy to relate to for many of us. She doesn’t come across like a horrible person the way another screenplay might portray her. The writing puts her in an impossible situation while she nails the character, dragging us into empathy (sympathy for those who’ve experienced similar yet far less extreme situations).
After the big incident and the unfriending on Facebook involving lonely Marina (Liesl Ahlers), her guilt is crushing. I love when someone’s acting comes purely from their face, their eyes; that’s the mark of a good actor. Alycia has that quality, which surprisingly not all actors do. She uses that to her advantage in many scenes. Instead of a shrieking, wailing Scream Queen wannabe, she offers a little better of an emotional connection.
I absolutely love the score. No two ways about it. There are a few throwback-type electronic pieces, as well as lots of other equally interesting piano compositions. Gary Go, whom I know nothing of, and Martin Todsharow (who scored the soul crushing and semi-controversial 3096 Days) help make the atmosphere eerie. Underneath each frame their sounds pulse and pump and the tension ratchets up fairly nicely most of the time. Alongside the dark, shadowy cinematography, the music helps incredibly with the film’s suspense, cultivating a mood so thick you could scrape it off.
Love the story. For those who might insist this is the same thing as Unfriended, the main character of both these films are completely different, two wholly separate types. Laura (Debnam-Carey) is not a bad person, as I mentioned earlier. She’s simply caught between a rock and a hard place in terms of Marina and how they come together. Unfriended deals more with the concept of bullying, as well as the consequences in a horror-ish sense. This movie uses a falling out between acquaintances and a later act of suicide all to get into a more supernatural story. We dive into witchcraft, possession, these areas. And it works because the writers don’t go for all the same tricks. There are jump scares – boring. Still there’s a nice portion of scary moments that do better by working their way under our skin before pouncing.
One of my favourite moments is when Kobe (Connor Paolo in one of his better performances as of late; love this kid) is looking through various things to try getting to the bottom of Marina and the darkness surrounding her – he winds up in a room with the lights flickering, screens flashing a demonic-looking face. Very unnerving. Then right after that is another creepy moment, as we watch Tyler (William Moseley) succumb to a buzzing sound in his ear, only to pull a black wasp from deep inside; yuck, and awesome. From here the horror comes on full force. Before that, we got flashes and brief scenes of horror goodness. The rest of the film is pretty solid on the bloody bits.Sure, it’s not great. For me it’s good enough. I really enjoyed getting the chance to see Friend Request. I can only hope once it gets a wider release in early October that people will give it a chance. There’s nothing here to reinvent the horror wheel. Not sure why people hold each film to that standard. You don’t always have to create some new situation or plot device or anything of that nature to make a good movie. This one had solid blood and gore – the bits with Marina’s mother later on, though brief, are spectacularly gruesome – the actors, specifically Alycia Debnam-Carey and Connor Paolo, made the characters and their stories worthwhile. Best is the sense of doom, the dread sitting over the whole movie. You never ever feel like a happy ending is anywhere nearby. And to my mind that’s an atmosphere any horror can hope to have. It isn’t one of my favourites, nor is it one of the better modern horrors. It’s just enjoyable. So relax, have fun. Let the witchcrafty madness get under your skin a little.