Friend Request review: Alycia Debnam-Carey’s thriller feels personal

Friend Request is a fresh, novel take on the horror genre. Suicide by Facebook, psychological neurosis from being unfriended, cyberstalking… All too real.

Friend Request hits home, making the audience reflect back on their own strange social media experiences into the wee hours of the morning. Days after the credits roll, you won’t look at Facebook the same way ever again. Alycia Debnam-Carey’s initial neoteric conflict feels deeply personal. A universally shared experience. We’ve all had that one person on social media that latches on and won’t let go.

They just can’t take the hint, unanswered message after unanswered message doesn’t deter or demotivate. In fact, it makes them pursue even harder. All for the two-second rush of validation and acceptance that a ‘like’ or ‘text back’ represents. That’s the digital world we live in but don’t discuss in analog form.

Opening concept: A+

Friend Request starts off innocently enough, as shy girl Marina Mills (Liesl Ahlers) nervously adds Alycia Debnam-Carey’s character Laura on Facebook. Despite noticing Marina has zero friends and peculiar updates flooding her profile, Laura doesn’t think much of it. As one of the most popular girls in her school, it’s just another add to her friend number. She confirms without thought or much research into Marina’s past.

For Laura, it’s another ornament to decorate her snow globe. For Marina, it’s the whole globe. At first, Laura sees Marina as harmless. Maybe a bit awkward but nothing immensely frightening. In fact, Laura feels by being kind of nice to her, she’s accomplishing a good deed. Virtue signaling at its finest. It doesn’t take long before Marina is taking an active role on every aspect of Laura’s profile. The cyberstalking begins with rapid-fire messages going unanswered but not unnoticed.

Without going too much into spoilers, Marina soon realizes her perceived value after going uninvited to Laura’s birthday in a white lie. The truth never escapes Facebook after all: photo tags come streaming in and Marina’s rage festers with each new update. It’s not long before Marina lashes out at her BFF hopeful, causing her to get unfriended. Let’s be honest … There’s is no bigger insult in the modern era.

Marina’s pleas for forgiveness are no more than wasteful tears for deaf ears. Feeling alone and deserted, Marina shockingly commits suicide early on in the film. A highly realistic unspoken outcome in today’s life that really makes you wonder. Are everyday taken-for-granted actions such as ‘liking’ a post potentially life-saving?

Freshness: A+

The atmosphere in Friend Request is authentic as can be because the real Facebook is the centerpiece. There have been several horror films over the last few years that have touched on social media’s impact, dating even six years back to Scream 4. However, typically a faux-social network resembling Facebook is used.

In this movie, we get the real deal, and it feels fresh and credible. Particularly, the use of tagging hundreds of friends in a classmate suicide video with comments pouring in makes the digital realm come to life. It’s believable because visually speaking, it’s aesthetically genuine.

Plot execution: B-

Friend Request starts off strong and open-ended. It had potential to be a societal statement, if it had stayed on-course to exploring the after-effects of guilt, shame and blame of a classmate suicide. Instead, it finds itself wandering toward popular but already explored supernatural territory. The paranormal tactics hearken back to the time of The Ring and The Grudge. However, we’ve experienced these pieces of cinema for the first time previously.

Delving into haunting allowed for the easy jump scare but stunted the film’s potential ceiling. A gritty, grounded look into the very real mental effects of ensuing depression caused by social media would have been massive. The special effects stayed in the mind’s eye but were on some level unnecessary to sell the show. Keeping it simple would have made it universal outside the world of horror.

The material presented early on was already strong enough to carry the film without supernatural activity, from finding sadness through watching others experience what you desire but can’t have in Facebook photos. Lies being exposed digitally without filter, building up to the crushing moment of being deleted off a virtual world.

Too quickly, Marina turned from complex human being to super being. The film spent the rest of the way rebuilding Marina back to the sophisticated centerpiece she already was at the beginning of the movie.

Lead characters: B

Alycia Debnam-Carey’s Laura embodies all of us who maybe he had a passing conversation with someone we shouldn’t have. The consistent lack of faith in her story by police, school, friends and even own mother that it’s not her posting the suicide videos or that she ever bullied Marina leaves her judged guilty until proven innocent.

Liesl Ahlers’s Marina the perfect counterpart, the meek-shy girl just trying her hardest to make a friend. Not understanding social norms, asking if she’s done something wrong to make Laura mad. If you have to ask, it’s already too late. Yet Marina’s perceived naivety makes her initially a tragic, sympathetic figure.

The rest of the characters seem more like archetypes from classic ’90s teenage horror drama. If you’ve been missing the feel of a good ol’ teenage horror flick, this movie has it in spades, giving the film an air of youth. It’s fun and campy but their sacrifice does not carry an emotional burden. There is, however, a surprising twist just when you think somebody is going in for a kiss …

Silly, unintentionally funny moments:

Very few horror movies are without their silly moments, and Friend Request is no different, chock full of ’em like a late night Syfy premiere. The lead being the constant error message when Laura attempts to delete her Facebook profile. Begging the question, why not just call tech support?

Instead, naturally the school suspends Laura for the rest of the semester for not deleting her profile.

Jump Scares:

There’s a healthy amount of jump scares in Friend Request. They’ll have you snapping back like Resident Evil 2’s dogs just burst into the window for the first time. As unique character ends go, *Spoiler* Isabel (played by Brooke Markham) seeing her death before it happens made for a strong visual */Spoiler*.

Friend Request – Conclusion:

If you’ve ever used Facebook and gotten a barely known friend request, it’s a must-watch with friends as a talking piece alone. It’ll make you mull over your own experiences in detail, which is what matters in the end. You come away with your mind still reflecting on Facebook when the lights go up in the theater.

Despite the later heavy-handed supernatural moments taking away from the opening concept’s sobering serious issues, its initial concept stays with you. If you’re an Alycia Debnam-Carey/Fear the Walking Dead fan, time to go check it out in theaters opening day.