By Chaz Lipp
The Lowdown: Not the most original concept, this social media-themed horror thriller is competently executed—just dull.
Friend Request, a social media-themed horror film, comes up a day late and a dollar short. Though far from unwatchable, this story of an outcast student who commits suicide after rejection on social media networks is a stale echo of 2014’s similar Unfriended. In fact, it arrives in U.S. theaters almost two years late—the German release was back in January, 2016 under the title… Unfriend. That was the second-choice title, director Simon Verhoeven’s film was first called Unknown Error. But guess what? Unknown Error was the German-release title for Unfriended. And Unfriend was, obviously, too close to Unfriended for comfort.
Got all that? It doesn’t really matter. The point is if you haven’t seen the earlier Unfriended, correct that omission ASAP as it’s a clever, scary flick. In the meantime, Friend Request is an okay-ish horror film that mines the same thematic territory (hardly an unforgivable sin—is there a genre more steeped in copycats than horror?). Ma Rina (Liesl Ahlers) has no friends, not in real life and not online. Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey), on the other hand, has 800 “friends” and counting. But she’s not snooty or elitist, just well liked. Her best friends include sassy gal pals Olivia (Brit Morgan) and Isabel (Brooke Markham), plus boyfriend Tyler (William Moseley). Laura remains close with her ex, Kobe (Connor Paolo), as well.
Ma Rina attempts to initiate a friendship with Laura, who’s impressed by the recluse’s surrealist animated videos posted online. But soon after accepting her friend request—not to mention engaging in a few in-person pleasantries, too—Ma Rina reveals herself to be far more troubled than she initially appeared. It’s no spoiler that she takes her own life since that’s Friend Request‘s opening sequence, before flashing back two weeks prior. Once the narrative catches up to the suicide, Laura and her friends find themselves haunted online by what appears to be Ma Rina’s spirit.
Debnam-Carey will be familiar to Fear the Walking Dead fans as series regular Alicia Clark. She’s good here, walking a delicate line between making Laura believable as both “nice” and “popular.” And the much lesser-known Ahlers is also effective as the mentally ill Ma Rina. It’s the rest of the cast that, unfortunately, gets stuck with barely one trait each. Even a shred of character development goes a long way, but Laura’s friends Olivia and Isabel are non-entities. Boyfriend Tyler is more a plot device than character—he’s a med student with access to the records of recently-deceased students. Connor Paolo (best known for regular roles on TV’s Gossip Girl and Revenge) makes a greater impression as half-creepy/half-milquetoast Kobe, the ex (who’s far from over their breakup) who works with Laura on the mystery behind the string of bizarre deaths that follow Ma Rina’s suicide.
Hardly worth full cinema price, see Friend Request only if you’re truly jonesing for a horror fix and have already seen It.
Friend Request images: Warner Bros. Pictures