Friend Request is yet another failed attempt to combine social media and horror. It really shouldn’t be that hard to combine the two when you consider the daily horrors that social media enacts upon us when we simply pick up our phones, but filmmakers have thus far made the combination look impossible. Social media has numerous innate existential horrors that could be exploited by a smart filmmaker but the question seems to come back to how you can exploit that for a body count and so far no one has been able to pull that off.
Friend Request stars Alycia Debnam-Carey as Laura, a popular college student with a strong group of close friends. How do we know that Laura is popular? Because we see her Facebook friend number flashed on the screen in scenes where she is not on Facebook. The film very much wants us to know that Laura’s friend count is super important to the plot.
Laura’s life of accepting friend requests from internet strangers is upended when she meets Marina (Liesl Ahlers) an unpopular loner who has no Facebook friends until Laura takes pity on her and accepts her friend request. Marina is of the belief that if you become friends on Facebook then you become friends in real life, but when she is not invited to Laura’s birthday party, her illusions are shattered and she takes her own life.
Things aren’t over from there, however, as it turns out that Marina was a witch and has used her laptop as a portal into the online world where her magic gives her control over Laura’s Facebook account where she posts a video of her own suicide and causes Laura to lose friends from her friend count. Not kidding, the film pauses to give us a graphic of Laura’s friend count going down.
Oh and Marina starts killing Laura’s friends using bugs. Wasps start attacking people via hypnosis maybe? It’s very sloppy and very unclear the exact extent of Marina’s internet witch powers. She has the ability to keep Laura and her friends from deleting their Facebook accounts but she also has the power to attack each of the friends using wasps which somehow force them to commit suicide?
Convoluted is a kind way of describing this ludicrous and desperately silly movie. Friend Request is among the most ill-conceived horror movies I have seen in some time. The premise is faulty from the start and the plotting only renders things sillier as scene after scene passes. The deaths in the movie are graphic but the CGI rendering of the deaths is so piss-poor that the deaths are rendered unintentionally comic.
Naturally, Friend Request is built for jump scares and I will admit a few of them are effective. An early nightmare sequence where Marina appears outside Laura’s window very suddenly and covered in wasps is terrifically timed and earned screams from the audience I was with but the dream sequence has nothing to do with any of the plot, it’s just an excuse for a jump scare. I could really say that about most of the scenes in Friend Request as each seems to exist solely to get to a jump scare of ever lessening impact.
It’s a shame that no one has yet been able to make a horror film based around the internet. The existential angst engendered on social media is a natural place for horror. One day a movie will have to crack the code of how to bring the horrors of dealing with strangers on the internet onto the big screen, it’s just such a natural for a deeply metaphoric psychological horror movie. Friend Request is not the movie to pull that off.