Saturday, September 23, 2017

Better Than You'd Think: Friend Request (2017)

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Like. Comment. Kill.

By Daniel Epler

You might not be aware of this, but Friend Request came out this weekend. It got advertised very little, was met with terrible critical reviews, and so far has raked in little box office. The most positive thing I can find from most critics on Rotten Tomatoes is the film is 'unintentionally hilarious' (smug garbage). It seems to be a film destined to be the latest terrible studio horror film to be tossed away and forgotten. I saw this film on Friday night in an empty theater. And I had a fantastic theater experience with this absolute gem. Don't ignore this friend request just yet....

At first glance, Friend Request seems to be the very typical mainstream studio garbage horror flick about a group of overly attractive white people being haunted by a spirit. The lead characters are attractive and popular college students living the good life with parties, nice apartments and very little work. However, what sets Friend Request apart is... it has something to say about this.

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This film is about a beautiful, popular, and social media addicted college girl named Laura who decides to do a good deed and befriend a strange and lonely girl at school and become her very first facebook friend. Only this girl becomes obsessed with Laura to the point of haunting her, and her facebook profile, from beyond the grave.

Sound dumb? Sure, I know it does. This film makes itself an easy target. It has a lame title and centering it's plot around social media will make people mock and laugh at it. How dated it will be soon, right? Well, these people are wrong.

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First, something being dated does not matter. All movies are a product of their time and should be viewed as such. A movie from 1982 should not be laughed at because it contains 1982 music, pop culture, and technology. It has those things because that's when the movie was made! Friend Request is about a group of young people in 2017 and, like it or not, young people in 2017 put a lot of importance on social media. When Laura is becoming hated because a demon from beyond the grave is posting sick and twisted videos from Laura's own profile, that's something that would be a major concern to a college student. People put a lot of importance on their online profile. I don't see the problem with a 2017 horror film exploring that.

This film will no doubt get often compared to Unfriended (2014) because both horror films deal heavily with social media. While Unfriended is an interesting technical exercise, it has absolutely nothing to say about the subject matter. Friend Request does. The film deals heavily with the feelings of loneliness, isolation, and the separation between the lonely people and the popular people. Friend Request takes a girl addicted to and thriving off of social media and completely tears her down through that very thing. I think to pretend that dealing with the importance of social media in our lives is stupid is to show a great lack of understanding about the world we live in today.

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Moving away from general ideas, I'll also say that Friend Request is a wonderfully made film. It's beautifully shot and the actors successfully portray characters I like and care about. But maybe my favorite thing about the film is that I actually found it scary. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was sitting alone in an empty theater late at night, but the creepy imagery the film shows really got under my skin and freaked me out. It wasn't the kind of thing I've come to expect through recent supernatural horror like The Conjuring Universe. There's something different and bizarre about the frightening things showed in this movie. There's definitely a lot of imagination on display. At one point there is even a jump scare that made me feel like my heart stopped beating. I haven't been that affected by a jump scare in a long, long time. I was extremely impressed.

The film seemed to constantly able to surprise in some interesting way. In the third act a "turn" is taken in the plot that was very unexpected and very entertaining to watch. I have never seen a victim in a horror film react the way one of them does. It was bonkers and I was fully on board! Look forward to that.

To top it all off, Friend Request is a movie that takes death seriously. The film is R-rated, so more blood and violence is allowed to make the death scenes have more impact than perhaps a PG-13 version would have. And when a character dies... it actually is sad. The other characters mourn and feel pain from their loss. This helps to raise the stakes and make us like the protagonists more.

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Give Friend Request a chance. It is a beautifully made horror film with truly effective scares and ideas about the world we live in. It is better than you'd think.

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