Friend Request is the best-worst horror film of 2016. It’s an audacious cyber thriller where the entertainment value rises with each asinine turn. Just when you think you have seen the lengths a film will go to in order to seem as in tune with the times as is reasonable there is a reminder that one of the thoughts weighing on us when our friends die is whether or not our follower count has changed.
The premise is more or less in the title: A college student, Laura Woodson (Alycia Debnam Carey), accepts a friend request from a girl at her school that has no friends on Facebook. The seemingly innocuous decision soon proves problematic as the new friendship turns creepy and Laura is forced to unfriend the strange girl and she, in turn, kills herself. She then returns as what I can best describe as a vengeful spirit who unleashes their power through a grab bag of tricks like Facebook manipulation, possession, and really good gif-making abilities.
In one soon to be infamous sequence, Laura asks her techie friend, Kobe (Connor Paolo), to investigate her inability to control her Facebook page. Upon reviewing the site, Kobe pulls up the source code for the dead girl and Laura, then proceeds to explain the difference between internet code and the bright green, glowing demonic text that appears where the code for the dead girl’s page should be. When asked how such a thing might be possible, Kobe simply replies with “I don’t know.” No one calls the cops. No one alerts the company. No one does anything except stare in disbelief for a moment and then return to life as if they didn’t just witness something truly unexplainable happen. It’s nonsense, and it’s written so poorly you will be fighting back your own laughter in order to understand the stunted phrases falling out of each character’s mouth.
To its credit, Friend Request makes the most of its modest budget. The special effects are both well done and utterly ridiculous, and the cinematography of Joe Heim is about as good as any you’ll find in modern horror. The film looks so good, in fact, that you feel comfortable following the ridiculous plot much longer than you otherwise would. For those who watch the film while also scrolling through social media on another device, separate tab, or second window—that may be enough.
Fear The Walking Dead and Into The Storm star Alycia Debnam-Carey carries the film to the best of her undeniably talented abilities. In a world where every character aside from hers exists solely to propel the plot forward, Alycia brings a likability and depth to Laura that goes a long way towards helping the film stay somewhat grounded.
Something similar can also be said for newcomer Liesl Ahlers and her performance in the role of Marina, the girl who is without friends. The first third of Friend Request gives Ahlers a very limited amount of lines and screen time to establish her character, but Ahlers makes it work without succumbing to the kind of overdramatic delivery that would further seal the film’s fate as a modern B-movie (and make no mistake, that is what this is).
Part of me wants to write Friend Request off as a goof and never consider it again, and maybe I should, but I have found it increasingly hard to do so because I am still blown away by the fact that it even exists. The number of creative people, investors, and time required to piece this parade of tired clichés together had to number in the dozens, and yet not a one of them thought they might be even slightly off the mark of what would constitute for a well-made horror film. I imagine there were conversations had over text and instant messaging in the months leading up to production that included comments like “a horror story for the millennial generation” and “we’re onto something no one else is doing right now.” The target is correct, but the aim and execution are all wrong. Sometimes the reason no one else is doing a thing you’ve just considered is because others thought about it an additional thirty seconds and realized what a stupid idea it was all along. That moment of reflection appears to have not happened once during the production of Friend Request, but you will be thinking it throughout the film’s 92-minute runtime.
Still, Friend Request demands to be seen through to its completion. If you’re going to commit, you must finish it, if only so that you can enjoy every gooey morsel of cheesy plotting to its full extent. Young audiences today have been in need of a terrible, yet enjoyable film that they can look back on through the fog of nostalgia as good times with bad movies, and this is it. This is their moment, and everyone else is welcome to scoff along.