Friend Request Review

I wasn’t looking forward to Friend Request. I remember seeing the trailer and shaking my head in disbelief at how poor the film looked. But after doing an entire module on horror films this university year, I thought I may as well go along and see how it delivered.

Fried Request stars Alycia Debnam-Carey, Liesl Ahlers and Connor Paolo and is directed by Simon Verhoeven. The film follows Laura (Debnam-Carey) who after an altercation with an odd girl, Marina (Ahlers) at school is harassed online by a supernatural presence.

When I first saw the trailer, all I could think was Friend Request was going to be a cheap rip off of last year’s cyber-themed horror film Unfriended. Unfriended‘s gimmick was that it all took place on a computer screen and I thought this looked like it was just going to take the themes that Unfriended had done and redo all of them. And for a while, I was right. The film takes the idea of online/social media addiction as being the cause for why the characters don’t just switch off their laptops and phones, it creates a downward spiral. But slowly, Friend Request tips it’s hand and reveals a much more thought-out and interesting back story, it’s just hidden behind stupid jump scares and loud noises.

The film works when it’s giving us glimpses of how and why the hauntings are happening. While eventually it does turn into an exposition dump, in the beginning Friend Request manages to only give glimpses at an explanations, making the audience piece the puzzle together by themselves. We have links back to old ritualistic cults, orphanages, mutilated children, your staple horror clichés, but it somehow works. It’s a mash up of Ringu meets M.R. James and manages to be a horror film with gothic sensibilities. It falls down when it panders to the mainstream horror crowd by throwing a face up accompanied by loud musical sting like the score writer has just fallen on every note on his keyboard. It didn’t need these moments, the films was spooky enough as it was, it’s just cheapened it by having easily telegraphed moments of “be scared because NOISES!”

Following on from the gothic themes in Friend Request, the film does boast some rather well done animation sections. Marina, the girl with a mysterious past who sets the plot in motion is an artist and puts her creations online. At certain points the film enters these animations and they actually add to the sense of uneasiness. They are stylistically similar to The Judderman or Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Is was an interesting deviation whenever the film would enter animation but unfortunately it doesn’t stick around for the second half, being dropped after the first half hour.

There are some other faults with Friend Request. All the actors, who despite playing sophomores all look over thirty, it’s quite funny. There is also a side-plot about a couple of police detectives who are investigating the odd disturbances. It could have been an interesting theme, similar to Arbitrage, to see two detectives trying to pin down what it actually that is that is stalking the students, epically once the stalking moves from the supernatural into something a lot more concrete and human. But once more, it get’s dropped before it is fully explored, with both characters leaving at the moments where they could have added something more to the story.

And just a small thing to finish, the ending is actually really imaginative as well as being a sequel bait to a franchise. However as soon as you start thinking about it, it doesn’t hold up to much logic, even in a supernatural horror film.

To wrap up, Friend Request wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. When it’s going good, it’s actually quite interesting and effective, but it’s push to go for the wider audience mean that that goodness is usually squandered by silly jump scares. It’s not as good as Unfriended and it isn’t as clever as Cyberbully (two films that do the cyber-horror genre well), but if you’re looking for a spooky film to watch in the cinema, then this will do.

Score: 6/10 It’s been done better, but for now it’s sufficient.

Unfriended Review

Is horror making a comeback? I don’t remember when horror became bad but with the release of films like Texas Chainsaw 3D, Ouija and Antisocial it seemed horror had gone the way of the dodo. But with recent releases like The Babadook, It Follows and now Unfriended, it seems that horror is back with a bang.

Unfriended stars Shelley Hennig, Will Peltz and Jacob Moses Storm and is about a group of teenagers, who on the anniversary of a fellow classmates death, are supposedly haunted by the dead girl through their computers. Throughout the film we see the haunting carry out through Skype calls, Facebook and iMessages and Youtube videos, with the purported ghost contacting each teenager and revealing their secrets.

The setup of the film is a clever one. While other films have dabbled in social media and the internet (Namely Chat Room and Antisocial, neither which pulled it off) this is the first I can find of a film that takes place entirely on a laptop screen. For that reason alone Unfriended will divide the audience reception, with some loving and others hating it. This was evident in the screening I was in, where there were quite a few walkouts from audience members. You will have to be alert, with the main character flicking between tabs and windows and messages appearing in the corner of the screen, it will be overpowering to a few.

Unfriended is also one of the few films I’ve watched that manages to do the internet justice. Other films that contain the internet usually do so poorly, with various knock off versions of Facebook and Twitter, yet Unfriended has it all, all the right sound effects, the messaging, everything, lending the film a great deal of realism and believability. The Skype calls in particular, become pixelated and de-sync, leading to a small bit of the uncanny to slip into the film at opportune moments, ramping up the feeling of uneasiness.

Scares are littered throughout the film, ranging from the “loud noise bang” jump scare, through to heavily stylised moments of body horror, and even a few moments of complete silence/Lynchian monotone notes to build up the tension. There are a couple of bait-and-switch tactics, with supposed build up of tension and it turning out to be nothing, yet sometimes the film pulls a fast one and switches again, giving the scares an irregular beat, making the audience stay on the edge of their seat.

However, the best part of the film is allowing us as the audience to see the main character type out replies on her computer, delete them and retype something different. This inclusion gives us a real insight to the character that we see from, leading to some jaw dropping moments of deceit and double crosses in the second half of the film, not giving us jump scare horror, but human horror as we see the true nature of the characters on screen revealed.

The film has its weaknesses. The overarching story is pretty predictable, and if you pay attention to certain hints you’ll be able to solve the whodunit mystery that the ghost plays with the teenagers. Not to get too pretentious, but Chekov’s Gun (both figuratively and literally) turns up at least twice in the film, possibly more, leading to story points that you can see coming from a mile off. The teenagers themselves are the usual horror stereotypes; the funny one, the promiscuous one, the dumb one, but once the ghost starts to turn them against each other we see a bit more of some semblance of more rounded characters, but by then the film has descended into gore and loud noises.

In conclusion, you will either love or hate Unfriended. While it made descend into clichés and annoying jump scares, its interesting take on the horror genre is enough to raise it above just being a stupid gimmick movie.

Score: 7/10 An interesting an solid entry in the resurgence of horror.