by Emily Reuben
Great. Another Facebook haunting flick. Didn’t Unfriended already use this schtick?
Friend Request is an odd little film. Apparently, it is a German supernatural-psychological horror film that initially released in Germany on January 7th, 2016. Despite having a German director and collaboration with German based companies, you would never be able to tell this was a foreign film. Everyone speaks English and the setting could be just about anywhere (though it was shot in Cape town, South Africa…as in not Germany).
Just another Facebook haunting flick…
Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is extremely popular, incredibly nice, and altogether perfect by movie standards. As evidenced by her Facebook profile, she has a lot of friends and is well-liked on her campus. Sadly for Laura, a student in one of her classes begins to take special notice of her. Marina (Liesl Ahlers) sends Laura a friend request via Facebook. Marina’s timeline is noticeably filled with strange animations and dark imagery, which Laura’s friends find off-putting. Even stranger, Marina has zero Facebook friends. Laura, stating that Marina seems to be a greatly talented artist, accepts Marina’s friendship thinking the girl is simply misunderstood.
After a few strange interactions and constant private messages coming from Marina, Laura becomes concerned by Marina’s apparent obsession with her. Laura neglects to invite Marina to her birthday party and so Marina is sent over the edge after seeing pictures of the gathering on Facebook. After a heated confrontation between the two girls, Marina kills herself on camera.
After Marina’s death, Laura’s Facebook account is seemingly hacked and Marina’s suicide video is shared around campus through Laura’s account. Having never seen the video before, Laura is understandably alarmed. Students begin to dislike Laura thinking she caused Marina’s death and is sharing the video as a sort of sick joke. Eventually the faculty also begins to suspect Laura as well.
Unable to delete the video or her account due to an “unknown error” message, Laura is trapped dealing with the repercussions of Marina’s suicide as well as the gruesome imagery that is being shared mysteriously through Laura’s own account. Slowly, Laura’s friends realize they are also unable to delete their accounts.
After one of Laura’s friends is killed and the video of his death is shared through Laura’s account, Laura begins to realize something more ominous is at play. After some Google searching, Laura’s friend Kobe (Conner Paolo) learns Marina wasn’t a normal human: she was a witch. Additionally, her suicide wasn’t actually a suicide at all. Instead, Marina was performing a ritual.
Concerned for herself and the wellbeing of her friends, Laura must find a way to destroy Marina’s spirit.
Mental health, suicide…witches?
The plot of Friend Request is more than ridiculous. It’s disappointing. The film had an interesting premise in that Marina’s suicide was not prompted by bullying or malicious intent as in most movies; she was simply unstable. In all actuality, the kindhearted and patient Laura is the true victim. Dealing with the guilt and psychological impact of Marina’s death has on Laura would have been fascinating.
Well that’s too hard apparently. You know what’s easy? Supernatural horror. Just stick a ghost or witch in the story, and you don’t even have to try! It’s Horror 101.
Friend Request is lazy. More than lazy, it’s pointless. After we learn Marina is a witch, the film basically admits that the first twenty minutes building up the relationship between Laura and Marina were a pointless waste of time, but we’ll go into this in more detail later. If Marina would have performed the ritual without first feeling neglected by Laura anyway, then why show their dynamic and build it up as important? Marina is first shown to have been obsessive and abusive due to some instability, thus causing Laura to feel guilty when Marina dies and blame herself despite having been more than friendly to her stalker. This is a powerful example of a toxic relationship and a complex situation that would have made for a great conversation. By simply making Marina a witch who preys on random girls rather than a sick, unstable human, the film is downplaying the horrors of mental illness and abusive relationships in favor of a supernatural cop-out.
Mental health is a real, often terrifying concern that is rarely discussed in film. Why? It’s a difficult topic. Honestly, the first twenty minutes are really well done in terms of making the audience feel simultaneously afraid of and bad for Marina. She is obviously in the wrong for stalking and harassing Laura, but she is obviously very sick. Wouldn’t a scarier scenario for this film be Laura dealing with the death of a stalker, blaming herself, and being blamed by her peers? While more psychological, what is real is always more terrifying than something that cannot logically exist in the real world.
And who even thinks witches are scary? What is this, 1684?
Random male aggression
So the relationship between Marina and Laura is….rocky to say the least. But what about those glorious side characters? You could replace them with cardboard cut outs and have the same effect. That’s how bland they are. I can’t even tell you their names (without Wikipedia’s help at least).
The only notable feature is that the males are all terrible. No seriously, they are notably mean spirited. Laura’s boyfriend literally starts yelling at her about hanging out alone with her friend because…jealousy? Apparently this is middle school. Kobe immediately blames Laura for uploading the suicide videos and later decides he has to kill her. Laura’s other male friend (he’s so unimportant that I’m not even going to look up his name) literally makes suicide jokes after Marina seemingly kills herself. Why does Laura hang out with these people? Maybe she just attracts bad company.
Witches aren’t scary, but is this movie?
Let’s cut to the chase, nothing in this film is scary. In fact, the film is more annoying than anything. There is a scene where the frame focuses on the unfriend button as Laura contemplates unfriending Marina. When she hits the button, the movie theater actually shook, because subsequent ‘’BWAHHHHHH’’ sound was so loud. That’s not scary. I mean, it made me want to walk out, but not out of fear.
The “scary” imagery on Marina’s page is little more than weird. There really isn’t any imagery shown that you haven’t seen in other horror flicks.
As mentioned above, a more scary premise would be focusing on the consequences Laura faces as the result of Marina’s suicide. It’s scary to think another person’s actions can have such a drastic impact on your own life. This would be served better as a pure psychological film rather than inserting spooky entities to try to make it scary. Honestly, it’s disrespectful how the film manipulates suicide for emotional impact when it has practically nothing to do with the plot. I mean, it’s shown the suicide was actually a ritual, so what’s the point? It’s to make the audiences feel bad. It’s a cheap way to make your audience feel something when there isn’t enough emotion to keep viewers interested. How lame.
And I want you to guess how the film ends. Seriously guess. No really you’ll get it.
It ends with a jumpscare. In the words of the great Randy Marsh, “I’m so startled.”
Animations that are to good for this movie
So is there anything good about this movie? Well yes, but not much. The first 20 minutes shows promise (but later throws that promise out the window). The editing is passable, and the music is….well it didn’t make my ears bleed.
What was impressive were the short animations shown on Marina’s Facebook page. While entirely pointless to the narrative, these were well crafted and much more fun to watch than the actual film. The gothic scenery and dark themes here are great. Why was money spent on animations for this movie? No idea, but at least they’re kind of cool.
Lazy, boring, and not worth a watch
Friend Request is a mess. The beginning portion feels like a completely separate movie than the last half. Nothing is really that frightening or strange, and characters are lackluster. More importantly, the film is too scared to actually discuss mental health, and that’s just a shame.
Do yourself a favor, don’t watch it. Watch literally anything else. Don’t give these terrible movies attention. Shield your eyes and walk away.
Featured image from JoBlo
'Friend Request' starts with promise but ends as shallow as its cast of cookie-cutter characters. The scariest thing about this movie is that people paid to go see it and perhaps enjoyed it unironically.