While 2017 was widely considered a banner year for horror films – in no small part due to the runaway successes of Get Out and It – not every horror film released was able to scare up box office receipts or critical triumph. A German English-language film produced in 2016 that did not see light of day in North America until late in 2017, Friend Request took a critical drubbing. Aggregated reviews at Rotten Tomatoes are currently tanking at around 15%. About 15 minutes into Friend Request and my initial thoughts were that the reviews were a little too harsh. After another 30 minutes and I couldn’t agree more – Friend Request is yet another lazy, derivative the ‘Internet is scary’ film.
For what it’s worth, the story revolves around Laura, a popular and attractive college student, who has it all – good grades, friends, an amazing boyfriend, a supportive mother, and a vast social network of over 800 friends on Facebook. Things take a macabre turn for Laura when she receives a friend request from a reclusive social outcast, Marina. We know Marina is a loner because the film painstakingly cloaks her character in mishmash of film clichés of what an unpopular goth kids probably resembles and she implausibly has NO friends on Facebook. Even my elderly family members on Facebook have friends but I digress. Taking pity on Marina, Laura accepts her ‘friend request’ but is quickly frightened by Marina’s obsessive messaging and monitoring of her social media. When Laura decides to not invite Marina to her birthday party, Marina sees the tagged photos and
Friend Request is probably not as terrible as its Rotten Tomatoes ‘Tomatometer’ suggests; it’s at least largely watchable for the first 40 to 45 minutes of its approximate 90-minute runtime. With competent production values and acting I never felt compelled to turn the movie off. There are even two to three scenes able to prompt a jump out of even seasoned, cynical horror fans. Nevertheless, Friend Request is a lazy horror film – its story and ‘scare set-ups’ are instantly recognizable to anyone who has watched even a handful of horror films. A number of lazy tropes plague the film from the existence of ‘characters’ whose only function is to provide expository dialogue (Kobe, the computer expert), inept police officers, and a mythology that allows the antagonist, Marina, to do things not because they follow from established rules but because they advance the story and generate attempts at scares. Its threadbare storyline engages in the same kind of sermonizing about the dangers of social media and the Internet in other horror films, including Unfriended, The Den, and Megan is Missing. At least Unfriended had an innovative format with a bit more sustained tension.
Friend Request feels a lot like the original Annabelle and Ouija films, rote attempts to cash-in on the horror fad by providing safe PG-13 films for less discerning pre-teen audiences. Somewhere in Friend Request is a potentially interesting look at the vanity and self-indulgence of social media but sadly the film’s material does not do any of these themes justice and can in fact barely justify its own runtime. I would recommend declining this Friend Request.