Horror fodder like Friend Request tends to be dismissed based on its timely nature, which is really too bad. These digital age thrillers may borrow from other formulas (or other movies), but they certainly are not derivative. In the case of Friend Request, it owes a debt of gratitude to fellow social media flick Unfriended, but it fuses its modern premise of cyberstalking with revered lore and finds a good balance between “old” and “new” in doing so.
The story snowballs after college student Laura (Fear the Walking Dead’s Alycia Debnam-Carey) cuts one of her online friends loose after the suspected user, another student named Marina (Liesl Ahlers), oversteps personal boundaries and becomes a leering yet inoffensive presence at school. Marina kills herself in response, filling Laura with questions and regret. However, Marina’s status (pardon the pun) is indescribable when clues about her death remain vague and Laura’s off-brand “Facebook” page grows a mind of its own.
Much like how Unfriended also used a recently-deceased loner to be the unpredictable and unseen force of control over computers, Marina also follows in the same footprints with her online activity. Also, like Unfriended, movie goers feel trapped in the same ways the film’s observational characters feel as they realize the culprit will always be ten steps aheads of them. However, the performances in Friend Request benefit from the cast’s convincing fearful confusion, along with subtle hints of self-awareness from director/co-writer Simon Verhoeven. I also appreciated how much of the film’s technological understanding was integrated into the actual movie. Gary Go and Martin Todsharow, for instance, ingeniously use transmission noises to add to a creeping scare, and editors Denis Bachter and Tom Seil have exceptional timing when showing online franticness through browsers.
I’m not too sure if the comparisons between Unfriended and Friend Request are intentional or purely coincidental. However, the similarities don’t take away from how thrilling Friend Request actually is. In fact, if anything, that common ground provides movie goers with a fun, modern-day double-feature. Why can’t these two movies, well, be friends?
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie