Chances are you either haven’t heard of Friend Request or it’s just beginning to appear on your radar, buried beneath all of the hype surrounding other horror movies, but if you are anything like me and are a lover of the horror genre, it should definitely be at the top of your list of must watch movies.
Set in a world where our lives are run by social media, the movie is based on a familiar concept, one that, when watching the movie, you may liken to 2014’s Unfriended. Only unlike Unfriended, the horror in Friend Request isn’t just limited to a screen - it transcends into the real world, none of the characters able to escape the antagonist’s terror even once they log off.
The story follows Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey), a popular college student whose social life is reflected in the number of friends she has on Facebook. In an act of compassion, she accepts the friend request of Marina (Liesl Ahlers), a social outcast. Everything seems to be fine until one day Marina crosses a line and drives Laura to unfriend her, a decision that ultimately proves deadly. After Marina takes her own life and a video of her suicide appears on Laura’s Facebook profile, her number of friends online begins to dwindle, as does her number of real life friends when they become the target of an evil entity.
Written and directed by German director Simon Verhoeven, Friend Request is a fresh take on horror, a psychological thriller that plays with the viewer’s mind from the very moment Laura accepts Marina’s friend request. From inconspicuous videos to nightmare-like sequences and almost fairy-tale like imagery, the movie sets an unsettling tone that immediately unnerves the viewer, a tone that doesn’t once waver throughout the entirety of the movie.
The cast is a selling point for the film. Alycia Debnam-Carey gives an amazing performance of a popular college student with an almost picture-perfect life and even brighter future turned into a girl haunted by the consequences of a single decision. As a viewer, you are able to feel Laura’s desperation and despair as she attempts to sort through the mess she has found herself in and fights to save her friends. Leisl Ahler’s acting is just as spectacular in her feature film. It is not overdone and never leaves you feeling as if it is too much, and her performance leaves you sympathizing with her at times.
The beauty of Friend Request is that it exploits the fears that we all have when we log onto the internet. Do we truly know the person behind the screen? It’s so easy to accept a friend request when a portion of our life can be kept exclusively online, but Verhoeven’s movie tackles the topic of internet addiction and what happens when our online life and real life mix. It inflates the fears of using social media and inflates the consequences that our social media consumption can have, which, if you take away the horror genre, can actually be very true of real life, too.
But for everything that Friend Request does right, there are still some things that it does wrong. The film does a good job building and maintaining suspense, but there are some moments that make you feel as if every cliché in the horror movie book is being thrown at you. At moments, it can be too much. While most of the jump scares are warranted and well-earned, the adrenaline-inducing aspect of the movie almost seems to rely entirely on those moments rather than the story itself, which thankfully the acting manages to make up for by carrying a sense of dread within the characters. I’m willing to forgive all of these things, though, because ultimately, what horror movie is totally perfect?
All in all, Friend Request does what it sets out to do: drape an uneasy feeling around social media. It may not be a movie that will turn into a cult classic, but it definitely has its upsides, and whether the jump scares leave you trembling in your seat or not, it will probably get your adrenaline pumping and heart racing.
Friend Request opens nationwide on September 22.