One could be forgiven for writing off Friend Request based solely on its trailer. But what the film has going for it is something usually lacking in these types of quickie genre exercises: sincerity. It’s clear from the start that, while the movie traffics heavily in cliches galore and has not much in the way of originality, the filmmakers seem eager to tell the very best possible version of this type of tale. It’s not great, and I can’t even really call it good, but I have to admire it on that level.
And besides, this is coming to us courtesy of the hilariously named Entertainment Studios, the brain trust behind this year’s other contender for Okayest Film of the Year, 47 Meters Down. While no Blumhouse or A24 (or AIP for that matter), Entertainment is showing a willingness to let directors go to town on otherwise unremarkable scripts and come away with surprisingly watchable results.
Of course, it’s still a movie about a haunted Facebook page, so … whatever. To say I’m struggling to remember the characters names right now would disregard that I could barely keep track of them while watching, except Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Marina (Liesl Ahlers), whose names are constantly, aggressively shown on screen. Laura’s we get courtesy of a Battle Royale-style running count of her ever-dwindling number of friends, and Marina’s we get as we watch her Facebook profile rain down hell on everyone around her.
After Marina’s apparent suicide is posted online, we flash back a few weeks to trace the chain of events that led to her fiery demise. It all leads back to Laura, Marina’s college classmate whose biggest complaint in life is that she has too many friends. Marina, of course, has the opposite problem. Looking like your standard-issue Movie Goth, she pouts her way through life until her friend request is accepted by Laura, rocketing Marina’s total number of Facebook friends to a solid “1.” But when Marina proves too clingy, Laura pulls the plug, dropping Marina back down to zero. Marina accepts this and smiles happily, and the film ends.
Just kidding. She sets herself on fire and starts haunting everybody’s Facebook pages. Now, the fact is that this is distressing for several reasons, not least of which is that online bullying has proven to be a very real problem with sometimes deadly consequences. But the film skirts this issue by just going absolutely bananas with its premise by throwing witchcraft, shape-shifting demons, killer hornets, hallucinations, bumbling cops and more into the mix. It’s not a social issue film, it’s The Haunted Facebook Movie, plain and simple.
As I said, it’s not great, but it’s also a lot better than it needed to be. We’ve got some gross practical effects to balance out the limited CGI budget and uncommonly cool, atmospheric photography. And while I wish the story and characters were more interesting than they end up being, sometimes it’s fun to just sit back and let a movie jump-scare you for ninety-five minutes.