[Screen It]

"FRIEND REQUEST"
(2017) (Alycia Debnam-Carey, William Moseley) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Horror: Following the suicide of a loner classmate who was cyber-stalking her, a college student must contend with supernatural events that afflict her and her friends.
PLOT:
Laura (ALYCIA DEBNAM-CAREY) is a college student who's popular both in person and online where she has more than eight hundred friends on Facebook. Accordingly, she draws the interest of loner student Marina (LIESL AHLERS) who sends Laura a friend request and gets accepted mainly due to the well-made animation videos on her page. But when Marina seemingly becomes obsessed with Laura and begins cyber-stalking her, Laura has no other recourse but to unfriend her. Marina then commits suicide and the video of that ends up posted on Laura's Facebook page, much to her surprise and horror.

It's not long after that when Laura's roommates -- Olivia (BRIT MORGAN) and Isabel (BROOKE MARKHAM) -- along with the latter's boyfriend, Gustavo (SEAN MARQUETTE), platonic friend Kobe (CONNOR PAOLO), and med school student boyfriend Tyler (WILLIAM MOSELEY) begin to experience odd and then seemingly supernatural events, some of which leave some of them dead. And videos of that show up on Laura's Facebook page, causing her overall friend count to decrease quickly and dramatically. From that point on, she, Tyler and Kobe try to figure out what's causing this haunting and how to put an end to it.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
While I've long predicted the demise of movie theaters for a variety of reasons, I still like going to the movies, but only if the conditions are right. Namely, the projection and related audio must be perfect and audiences must be respectful of their fellow moviegoers. And by that I mean no loud or smelly eating, no seat kicking, no getting up and leaving and then returning, no talking and certainly no cell phone use.

The latter is perhaps the most egregious since smartphones, despite their relatively small size, put out enough light that they can probably be seen from the next county over. It's rare to go to a movie and not have to deal with that and the related "Turn off your phone!" rants from others who are equally annoyed.

At our press/promo screening of "Friend Request," all but the seat kicking occurred during the scant 90-some minutes, although I imagine someone in the theater likely received the unexpected jolt from behind. But you know what? I really didn't care. No sir. Not one bit. And that's not because I'm resigned that this is now the new norm of watching a movie in a (usually) dark theater with strangers.

Instead, it's that the movie isn't any good. In fact, it's really bad. As in "Please let the supernatural entity kill everyone as expeditiously as possible so that the ending will arrive and everyone can leave" bad. Not just that, but it's also quite similar to "Unfriended" from 2015 where a young, bullied person took their own life and then things that go bump in the night started happening to her former acquaintances.

Oddly enough, both films feature characters named Laura, and while the earlier flick had her cast as the suicidal one, this flick -- directed by Simon Verhoeven from a script he wrote with Matthew Ballen & Philip Koch -- has the victim (Alycia Debnam-Carey) with that name. Popular in the real world and online world, she befriends the college loner (Liesl Ahlers) and soon finds that girl cyberstalking her to the point that she unfriends Marina who then commits suicide.

But she's not done with Laura just yet as soon her roommates (Brit Morgan and Brooke Markham), one of their boyfriends (Sean Marquette), a platonic friend (Connor Paolo) and Laura's boyfriend (William Moseley) start experiencing weird, supernatural events. And when the body count starts rising, video of the demises is posted online. Everyone thinks Laura is doing it, and thus her friend count on Facebook begins to drop (yes, that's the vindictive supernatural entity's modus operandi -- reduction in online friends).

Had we cared about our protagonist or anyone else that might have made some of this worth sitting through, but we're never given the chance. Throw in some mediocre to bad performances, horrible dialogue, and predictable "haunted house" style direction (with plenty of predictable, but sometimes nonetheless effective "jump scene" jolts), and you'll end up wishing you were at home surfing through your Facebook timeline.

While not original in concept, the filmmakers certainly have the point correct in that people are addicted to social media and their phones on which they peruse it. And our preview audience only proved that point with their uncivilized, selfish behavior of checking their phones during the screening.

But without a decent film to hold their interest, that point ends up wasted, all of which makes one wonder if those who made and appeared in the film ended up distracted by their own tech devices and social media accounts rather than being focused on making an engaging and effective horror flick. If you get a friend request from the movie "Friend Request," either delete that or report it to some cinematic quality control authority. The film rates as a 2 out of 10.




Reviewed September 19, 2017 / Posted September 22, 2017


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