By: Tara Donahue
Friend Request touches on many relevant things in society. Namely, how social media seems to be such an important part of our everyday lives and how reliant we are on it. We’re sometimes judged by how many, or how few, friends we have on Facebook or even followers on Twitter. But how well do we really know many of the people we decide to let into our world through our social media profiles? That’s exactly the point German director Simon Vanderhoeven, in his first horror outing, is trying to make in this supernatural-psychological horror movie Friend Request starring Alycia Debnam-Carey, Brit Morgan, Connor Paolo and William Moseley.
Laura Woodson (Debnam-Carey) is one of the most popular students at her college. She has many friends, an active social life and over eight hundred friends on Facebook. She shares an apartment with three of her closest friends: Olivia (Brit Morgan), Isabel (Brooke Markham) and her boyfriend Gustavo (Sean Marquette). Rounding out their tight knit little circle is Laura’s boyfriend Tyler (William Moseley) and another friend, Kobe (Connor Paolo).
Laura receives a friend request from the weird, mysterious loner Marina (Liesl Ahlers) or “Ma Rina” on Facebook, who sits in the back of class clad in a black hoodie. Not wanting to be mean because the girl has no friends, Laura decides to accept. What a mistake that turns out to be. Sometimes being nice apparently isn’t always the best way to be, especially when the person you’re trying to be nice to turns into a creepy, pseudo-stalker who develops an unhealthy obsession with you. It begins to make Laura feel all kinds of uncomfortable and she makes it a point not to invite Marina to her birthday party instead lying to her. Big mistake.
Marina confronts Laura very angrily and publicly and then when things go to a physical level, it turns out the former has a bald spot she covers under the hood. It seems that the rumors are true: Marina pulls out her hair. Laura, disturbed by this behavior, unfriends Marina on Facebook. This, in turn, pushes Marina to commit suicide on camera and the video is uploaded to social media and somehow posted to Laura’s Facebook. It can’t be deleted either.
From this point on things only get more disturbing. The body count starts to climb as Laura’s friend count starts to go down. It seems Marina’s vengeful spirit is getting revenge on Laura by not only killing her friends, but by making their deaths post to her social media. This only continues to make her friend count decrease further. She wants to make Laura feel what it means to truly be lonely.
Kobe, a whiz with computer code, figures out that it’s not typical code in the posts, but a type of black mirror magic. He teams up with Laura, which only makes Tyler jealous, and together they try to find the actual place Marina committed suicide to destroy the mirror that turned her spirit vengeful.
Laura, on her quest to put an end to this nightmare, investigates all leads and ends up learning a lot about Marina’s dark past and what led her to become the lonely girl. The spirit had vowed to make Laura feel as lonely as she felt and by the end she’d lost everyone who meant anything to her. She was all that was left.
We see Laura, some time later, looking much like Marina did – pale, sunken in eyes, hood covering her head. It is such a stark contrast to the bright, vibrant girl we met at the beginning of the film. She’s watching a group of popular girls from a distance, just as Marina did with her and her own friends. The open laptop in front of her shows her own Facebook with her name now spelled “Lau Ra,” displaying that she has zero friends.
This movie will definitely appeal to the Facebook generation. It has a lot of twists and turns, but also a lot of clichés. Alycia Debnam-Carey stands out as the sympathetic protagonist amidst mostly mediocre performances. In fact, it’s likely that this film, released in Germany in early 2016, was finally brought to theatres here in the US because of Debnam-Carey’s recent success on AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead.”