Friend Request

Suicidal goth described as “bitch”, “daft”
Picks off Facebookers by means of witchcraft
*
FR Pic 1.jpg
Screenplay two-stars.png Cinematography 3 Performance 3
—-
With a set-up quicker than Usain Bolt with the runs (university lecturer with a hang-dog face regrettably informs his class of hungover students that one of their female classmates committed suicide over the weekend) and with a running time shorter than Jeremy “Get Me A Steak Or I’ll Punch You In The Face” Clarkson’s temper (92 minutes), it’s surprising and disappointing that German director Simon Verhoeven’s self-penned supernatural thriller Friend Request unravels with as much excitement and pace than a Thora Hird stairlift. And what’s worse, the ending suggests a sequel!
 *
“Internet Addiction Disorder” student Laura Woodson (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is living the life of Riley. With her Colgate smile and surfboarding boyfriend Tyler (William Moseley), she spends her days shooting the breeze with her BFFs Olivia and Isabel (Brit Morgan and Brooke Markham) taking selfies, downing cocktails and in the morning after the night before jogging along the beach like a carefree tampon model. Then, some dis-enchanted evening, she catches the eye of a stranger across a crowded room (Liesl Ahlers as Marina “Is She, Like, 12 Years Old?” Mills) and somehow she knows, she knows even then, that somewhere she’ll see her again and again.

 *

FR Poster.jpgViewing Marina’s friendless Facebook profile, Laura discovers that the pale-faced, hooded goth who “rips her hair out during class” is actually a talented artist whose striking but disturbing images of raging fires, spooky forests and screaming children prompts her to accept her online friend request (hence the title). From then on, it’s downhill faster than Rolf Harris’s career. Messaging turns to Facetiming, chatting turns to stalking and, on the evening of Laura’s birthday, just after she says “It’s my party and I’ll deny if I want to”, Marina commits hari-kari by hanging herself over a fire while looking into a mirror – an act which Laura’s techno-geek ex-boyfriend Kobe (Connor Paulo) describes as an occult form of revenge with origins in witchcraft – and posting the footage on Facebook.
 *
Things start to go bump in the night and, very soon, a conveyor-belt of Boyfs and BFFs start to get bumped off into oblivion. First, the self-proclaimed “white chubby kid who loves chocolate” Gustavo (Sean Marquette) who head-butts himself to death in an elevator, closely followed by his equally sweet-toothed partner in life Olivia who rips out her hair and slashes her throat (a fitting description of my intentions towards the end). Footage is shared on Laura’s Facebook timeline by someone who has hijacked her account. Attempts to delete both the images and her account are met with: “An unknown error message has occurred. Please try again later.” Laura is suspended from college, her thousand or so followers begin to jump ship and she receives an ominous message from beyond the grave: “u will know how it feels 2 b lonely.” 😦

But here’s the rub: after a promising opening, competent performances and a sprinkling of strategically placed shudders and shocks, Friend Request is frustratingly disappointing in that … the list of victims with a target on their backs is unnecessarily and predictably long; the make-up department – whose craft should go un-noticed – borders on Rocky with their none too subtle use of cold sweats, red eyes and pale faces; and despite the best efforts of director Simon Verhoeven and his co-writers Matthew Ballen and Philip Koch to breathe life into the fast-developing genre of online supernatural horrors, the old tricks of creaking doors, faulty electrics, long corridors, disturbing clowns and beheaded dolls fail to convince. As for the suggestion of a sequel: end request!
Reviewer : Peter Callaghan
3
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