Far too often, films don’t understand technology they hope to criticize. Hackers, The Lawnmower Man, Transcendence, etc., the list goes on and on of films that completely miss the mark on what they believe to be the latest tech that is just a few tweaks away from destroying society. Friend Request is a special type of evil: a film that not only lambasts a technology that already feels past its prime, but also a film that can’t even comprehend the most basic ways that people act and engage with each other. Friend Request is as if Tommy Wiseau and an alien teamed up to make a horror film with no concept of what social media is or how human interactions work whatsoever.
Laura (Fear the Walking Dead’s Alycia Debnam-Carey) has the type of life that’s easy to be a jealous of when viewed through posts on social media. She’s a college student with a solid group of friends, a pre-med boyfriend and is genuinely liked by the 800+ friends she has on Facebook. Laura receives a friend request from Marina (Liesl Ahlers), a girl in her “Internet Addiction Disorder” class who has zero friends. Laura views Marina’s page and finds a talented artist and decides to befriend the outcast girl at school. Unfortunately, Marina takes this act of kindness too far, becoming a clingy mess that eventually kills herself in front of her computer once she discovers she wasn’t invited to Laura’s birthday party.
Yet soon after, Laura discovers someone has posted a video of Marina’s suicide on her page and Laura can’t take it down. Laura can’t delete Marina as a friend, and she can’t even shut down her own page. When Laura’s friends that were invited to her birthday start dying, with videos of their deaths somehow posting on Laura’s Facebook, it becomes clear that Marina is haunting Laura…from inside the internet.
On the surface, Friend Request might seem like a film about the dangers of social media obsession – hell, even the characters take a class on the subject. Despite this, no character in the film is even all that interested in Facebook or social media of any kind. Never is it presented that Laura can’t pull herself away from the site, and Marina from the beginning is clearly more obsessed with Laura that updating her status. Because of this, there’s no real rationale for showing the dangers of social media or even using Facebook as a tool for horror. Laura is shown as nothing but a caring, understanding person, until Marina takes things too far in their friendship, and Marina’s usage of the internet is clearly something the writers don’t understand. If anything, Friend Request doesn’t present the idea that Laura should have accepted her request, it’s that she should have just ignored the weird kid in class from the very beginning.
This is only the beginning of Friend Request’s never-ending tone deaf and socially unaware behavior. The film’s three (!) writers, Matthew Ballen, Philip Koch and director Simon Verhoeven are completely earnest with their completely laughable premise. Somehow, they believe that showing Facebook code haunted by the essence of Marina or countless scenes where characters try to frantically delete their Facebook accounts to no avail is actually intense and horrific.
Somehow, Verhoeven, Ballen and Koch have gone through their entire lives never hearing how human beings speak. The way Laura interact with her friends is almost as cringe-inducing as the failed attempts at horror. One friend tells Laura she should “unfriend that seat bitch!,” and two others not only tell a horrible joke about how Laura should treat Marina, they then progress to act out the situation for Laura. Friend Request’s incredibly idiotic in a way that gives no indication that its three writers have ever heard the English language before their collaboration.
Every attempt to be frightening is in fact, ridiculous, and Verhoeven throws everything he can at the audience to shock and awe. Friend Request combines occult backstories, Ring-lite scares, slight body horror, CGI wasps, colored contact lenses and clowns – for some unexplained reason – into a confusing mess of stupidity.
Friend Request is absurd in every way. Its characters – especially Laura’s one-note friends – are nothing but fodder for Marina’s horror, the ideas are muddled and provide no commentary about the internet-obsessed and Verhoeven can’t settle on what he should attempt to scare his audience with. Friend Request’s only success is being the type of bad horror film that people will watch to laugh at its ridiculous jump scares and poor presentation of ideas. Friend Request ends up becoming as shallow as the social media it’s trying to criticize, an embarrassing wreck of a movie that is easily one of the year’s worst.