A lot of people find social media horrifying. There's the angst of reconnecting with people from high school that you never really liked much anyway, the dread of being tagged in unflattering photos, and the terror of the time suck: you go to take a quick peek at Instagram and when you look up from your phone three hours have disappeared. Our pervasive connectedness has even birthed a special form of anxiety: FOMO, or the Fear of Missing Out.
"Friend Request" isn't the first horror movie to use social media as a plot device, but it may be the first to embed it so thoroughly in the story, and it's fairly clever about it. Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey, Fear the Walking Dead) is a popular college student with lots of friends, and a penchant for documenting much of what she does on social media. We learn the basics of her life via an opening walk-through of her Facebook account, where she has 800+ friends and tons of photos of her, her boyfriend, and her closest pals partying and showing off their fancy new apartment. She's in a psychology class with best friend Olivia (Brit Morgan, True Blood) when she catches the eye of introverted loner Marina (Liesl Ahlers), who's looking for a friend.
There's clearly something off about the shrinking, black-clad Marina, but nice-girl Laura chats with her after class and then grudgingly accepts her Facebook friend request. The fact that she's Marina's only FB friend is off-putting, as is the dark, intense artwork that makes up the bulk of content in her page's feed. Soon Marina's committing social media faux-pas left and right: commenting on all of Laura's photos, initiating repeated video calls, and generally becoming a tech-enabled stalker. Shaken and annoyed, Laura rebuffs her, and she's horrified when shortly thereafter footage of Marina's suicide somehow appears on her FB page. Worse, it appears that Laura has forwarded the grisly footage to everyone on her friends list.
"Friend Request" isn't necessarily subtle, but it does a good job of capturing the dreadful helplessness that comes with social media run amok. Virtual friends turn on her, and Laura's also the target of a police investigation thanks to the death video. Then close pals - the ones she sees every day, in actual life - start getting picked off. The creepy harbinger of each impending demise is a friend request from the seemingly dead Marina. Who's behind it all? Is Laura manipulating everyone? Is she crazy? And who is - or was - this Marina person?
A couple of elements save "Friend Request" from being just another hacky horror quickie. Sure, there's the fairly formulaic set-'em-up-knock-'em- off plot that's a standard for this segment of the genre. But the art direction here is eye-catching: the drawings and videos that populate Marina's Facebook feed are sinister and surreal and could tell a story on their own that might even be better than the one we end up seeing onscreen. The visual focus extends to the selection of some great, creepy locations, such as the shabby orphanage where Laura sleuths for clues about Marina's past, and an abandoned factory complete with shiver-inducing basement. And a few grim death scenes - check out the one in the elevator, and catch the backstory on Marina's mom - might stick enough to cause a sleepless night or two.
"Friend Request" isn't destined to be a classic, but it's a solid enough genre offering. The cast is fun to watch - particularly the always-reliable Ms. Morgan, and Gossip Girl alum Connor Paolo. And if you can get past a few silly plot devices (would the police really make the leap so quickly from a 'mysterious video on Facebook page' to "Well, CLEARLY you killed her"?) and give it the benefit of the doubt, "Friend Request" is a decent distraction for horror fans who are eagerly waiting for the kickoff of the Halloween movie season.
|Movie title||Friend Request|
|Summary||Not destined to be a classic, but creepy visuals and few grim death scenes may satiate horror fans as we ramp up to Halloween movie season.|