Social Media Horror Mess
What’s the worst thing that could happen to a young student attending college in today’s social media-soaked world? A failing grade? Sleeping through an important exam? How about attending class in underwear? If we’re to buy what Friend Request is selling, the biggest horror to come from our college years would be losing all of our Facebook friends.
That’s the central message in Simon Verhoeven’s (Men in the City) film about popular college student Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) who has it all, including good looks, an apartment she shares with friends, a popular med-student boyfriend (William Moseley), and over 800 Facebook friends.
It all comes crashing down, however, when she accepts the friend request from a goth-y loner named Marina (Liesl Ahlers) who is a hoodie-wearing, fragile, broken soul just looking for acceptance. Seems Marina wants to be a real friend and Laura’s going to have nothing do with that. The real tragedy, though, comes when Marina finds out she was un-friended by Laura. That’s when things take a terrible twist. Marina kills herself, her spirit takes over Laura’s computer and soon begins haunting her circle of close friends with computer viruses, sickening videos, and otherworldly appearances.
Following Marina’s death, Laura takes it upon herself to investigate the dead girl’s past. She uncovers strange orphanages, burned down houses, an abandoned factory, and a mysterious headmistress who tells Laura that Marina was brought to the orphanage when the young girl’s mother died in a fire. As videos of Marina’s death begin automatically posting to her timeline, and all of her friends begin to die via mysterious circumstances, Laura gets expelled from school and quickly comes under investigation by cops looking into Marina’s death.
There’s actually a hauntingly relevant message to be explored within the pages of the script by Verhoeven, Matthew Ballen, and Philip Koch about the distinction between social media and actual real life socialization. But unfortunately the script bogs down and heads in an entirely different direction with absurd attempts to turn it into some kind of mysterious occult tale involving ancient lore about black mirrors believed to be portals to other dimensions. Then there are the swarms of deadly wasps. No, I’m not kidding.
Spinning a frightening tale about the unintended by-product of unbridled social media consumption does, indeed, have the potential to become a true horror story with frightening consequences, but unfortunately Friend Request isn’t that story. It simply doesn’t carry the emotional weight and neither is it smart enough to pull it off. Nor does it go for humor either. Friend Request ends up as an ill-conceived, poorly executed total mess of an attempt to mine terror from a popular cultural phenomenon.
Compounding the film’s failure to get its point across are the abysmal technical aspects that also fail to add any redemptive value. Though almost expected in a horror film, the poor dialogue in Friend Request seems laughable at best (not in a good way) and fails to register even the slightest tick on the self-aware meter. In addition, it is delivered by astonishingly unmemorable characters who flail about while never rising above the stupidity of the script.
The closest Verhoeven et al come to creating a character with any amount of gravitas is Liesl Ahlers’ Marina, who tugs on the ol’ heart strings a bit as she struggles to find acceptance in a world that doesn’t take too kindly to the silent artist type. Especially one who has interests and talents outside the social media world. Plus, there are some satisfyingly unpleasant revenge sequences that make Carrie’s prom meltdown look like something out of, well, let’s just say it heartily deserves its “R” rating.
Friend Request wants to show us how scary social media is, but it only manages to remind us that inept filmmaking can be even scarier.
(Released by Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures and rated “R” for horror violence, disturbing images, and language.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com .