CREDIT: Entertainment Studios

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2017.

Starring: Alycia Debnam-Carey, Liesl Ahlers, William Moseley, Connor Paolo, Brit Morgan, Brooke Markham, Sean Marquette

Director: Simon Verhoeven

Running Time: 92 Minutes

Rating: R for Suicide by Possession and Wasp Swarm Attacks

Release Date: September 22, 2017

Friend Request asks the question: what horrors await those of us addicted to social media? The trouble is, none of its characters actually suffer from such an addiction. Instead, their usage of Facebook is all healthily moderate. Maybe witches don’t understand new technology. Or maybe something got lost in translation with German co-writer/director Simon Verhoeven. In actuality, the only reason that California college girl Laura’s (Alycia Debnam-Carey) life is destroyed by the evil of Friend Request is sheer bad luck. But it also has something to do with her inherent sense of politeness.

Laura is marked for companionship by Marina (Liesl Ahlers), a new student in her psychology class who looks just like a mini-Lisbeth Salander and is just as socially awkward but a million times creepier. Before Laura accepts Marina’s request, the latter has exactly zero Facebook friends, which should be the first sign of trouble, but Laura looks upon the situation with kindness. Alas, allowing Marina into her life leads to obsession, which leads to unfriending, which leads to suicide, which leads to the video of Marina’s death mysteriously appearing on Laura’s Facebook page.

Laura is unable to delete the video, or do anything at all to prove her innocence, as some sort of demonic virus has infected her entire online presence. This leads to everyone at school deciding she is a terrible person, which leads to the film’s big visual hook: a countdown ticker displaying all the Facebook friends that she is losing. The implication is that this would devastate her because of how obsessed she is with social media. But she is not obsessed, and her life is hellish enough with the supernatural presence that is causing all of her friends to kill themselves.

The individual scares manage to pack a bit of a punch, as moments of Marina making her afterlife presence felt are heralded by swarms of black wasps. Plus, the makeup game is on point. Furthermore, Friend Request can be appreciated for its off-kilter weirdness that is probably partly unintentional but is still transfixing. As Laura and all the people in her life are affected more and more by the evil presence, they start to act less and less human. In particular, a pair of cops investigating the string of deaths are so casually frustrated by every new twist. They are incredulous whenever they behold a dead body, despite such developments being a normal part of a law enforcement official’s job.

While there are pleasures to be had from that strangeness, it is hard to fully embrace Friend Request, as it is too unjustifiably cruel. It acts like it needs to teach its main character a lesson, even though she is genuinely nice and level-headed. Sure, true evil does not play fair, but a film about true evil needs to know how evil it is if it wants to win over an audience that is not just as evil.

Friend Request is Recommended If You Like: The weirder elements of The Bye Bye Man, John Mulaney’s routine about Ice-T on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Grade: 2 out of 5 Black Mirrors