Friday, September 23, 2016

Cluttered Cybernaturals: Friend Request (2016)

Friend Request (Germany, 2016) (AKA "Unfriend")
Rating: **
Starring: Alycia Debnam-Carey, William Moseley, Connor Paolo

In a way, I feel bad for this movie; Friend Request clearly has some neat ideas for a literal "ghost in the machine" horror flick, but being released two years after the similarly-plotted (and better) Unfriended (2014), it was inevitable for this German dead teenager flick to be compared and expected to dish out a better (if not the same) kind of scares, drama, and bloodshed Unfriended delivered.

For a decent while, it kinda looked like Request was gonna do okay, opening with a campus professor announcing to his class news concerning an apparent suicide of their lonesome and troubled classmate Marina. One of the concerned faces in the crowd is Laura, an uber popular girl with a seemingly perfect life in and out of cyberspace, as well as the first and last friend Marina made not just before her death, but in her entire life.

We then go back a few weeks or so to what happened prior to the suicide, as Laura notices Marina awkwardly looking at her during class. Knowing the girl's inability to socialize, Laura decided to befriend Marina out of pity, a move she will later regret when the girl starts obsessing over her, cyber-stalking and spamming our protagonist's profile with possessive comments while working on some very grisly (yet beautiful) gothic animations.

Understandably upset over the girl's erratic behavior and obsession, Laura decided to cut her ties with Marina no soon after which, unfortunately, pushed the loner into killing herself, suspiciously in front of a recording webcam. The captured video becomes viral and it isn't too long before Laura's friends begin to see weird visions of a ghostly Marina and other disturbing apparitions. Visions that prompt them into killing themselves.

Laura's situation gets worse when the deaths somehow find their way into being posted in her facebook wall, a phenomenon that her "facebook friends" seem to think she's doing on purpose. Now, as of writing, I never use any social media outside of deviantart.com and blogger (if they're counted), and I assume the single facebook profile I made back at 2008-ish is rotting in cyberspace as we speak so I honestly have no clear idea if this is how social media works, but Friend Request seems to be tying itself as a parallel to real life hackings and shows how these new age socializing tools can be used to ruin a person's life should the wrong hands manage to get into it. Again, this is a neat idea and I do love the fact that we get to play around with this concept again after Unfriended, but a few missteps in Request's plot, direction and characterization quickly worsens my viewing experience.

Basically, the problem I have with this movie is that most of the latter plot development wherein majority of the ghoulish stuff happen is unbelievably shallow and cliche'd; correct me if I'm wrong but a scene here has Laura visiting a computer wiz who manages to find out that whoever's posting the artistic snuff gifs at Laura's facebook wall is using some very freaky cybercode that resembles rune letterings. Why not take a friggin' screenshot of the codes and forward it to the site's admins so they could handle the situation and/or announce to every moron in Laura's so-called Facebook "friends" that this is a bug (A very freaky bug that could kill the admins too if we go any further looking into it, but a bug otherwise) and there's not much they or the account holder can do about it? Or better yet, why not forward this to the two detectives investigating the case? I understand that this is a horror flick and smart decisions are usually not a character's smartest asset around this genre, but a little brain cell couldn't hurt! (At least the tech wiz in Unfriended attempted to do something to stop their own "cybernatural" mishaps. And he got killed early for doing so, which in turn puts the rest of his friends in a situation they cannot escape without his technical know-hows. Now that's development done right!)

So what does Friend Request offer on its end? Some enjoyable soundtrack and the little bits of animation here and there, I will give the movie that. And then there are the jump scares. Lots and lots of jump scares.

Now, these are fun jump scares, I admit, but I sometimes see them as a desperate moves to save an otherwise uninteresting plot and Request almost felt exactly like that as the movie's message gets really confusing, the deaths are boring (albeit bloody) and the villain is hardly noteworthy despite all the added supernatural witchery used to substitute for a decent characterization. The additional emphasis on Laura's facebook friends dropping down because of the snuffs "she" was posting might also be another scare factor for today's social media obsessed public, but for someone like me who hardly cared about this sort of stuff, it's not gonna work as much as it would to the next selfie-obsessed duddette.

In the end, Friend Request is an underwhelming dive into modern horror that can't seem to figure out if it wants to be relevant and relatable, or just be a braindead fun flick full of dumb characters and cheap scares. It is watchable, make no mistake, especially if you are the open and easily forgiving type, but with so many other interesting bully and/or web-based horror flicks out there, this movie hardly tries to be memorable and can be easily replaced by better titles.

1 female hanged herself above a burning portrait, caught on fire
1 male beaten to death inside an elevator
2 boys mentioned killed, faces mutilated
1 female had her throat cut with a scalpel
1 female shot through the mouth
1 female presumably killed offcamera
1 male knifed through the neck
1 male stung to death by wasps
Total: 9

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