FRIEND REQUEST movie poster | ©2017 Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures

FRIEND REQUEST movie poster | ©2017 Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures

Rating: R
Stars: Ayicia Debnam-Carey, William Moseley, Connor Paolo, Brit Morgan, Brooke Markham, Sean Marquette, Liesl Ahlers, Shashawnee Hall, Nicholas Pauling
Writers: Matthew Ballen & Phillip Koch & Simon Verhoeven
Director: Simon Verhoeven
Distributor: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures
Release Date: September 22, 2017

Not to be confused with 2015’s UNFRIENDED, the new movie FRIEND REQUEST is a tale of quasi-online horror. It has one idea about characterization that’s so good that it somewhat excuses lapses in logic.

Directed by Simon Verhoeven from a screenplay he wrote with Matthew Ballen & Phillip Koch, FRIEND REQUEST begins with a college classroom announcement that one of the students, Marina Mills (Liesl Ahlers), has committed suicide. Psych student Laura Woodson (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is hit particularly hard by the news. We then flash back to two weeks earlier, when Laura is first approached by extremely shy classmate Marina. Laura accepts Marina’s friend request (the online platform is never identified, but it’s similar to Facebook), only to quickly be overwhelmed by the young woman’s need for contact. Laura has a busy social life, complete with romance and best friends/roommates. Everyone urges her to detach herself from strange, clingy Marina. So Laura tells one of those lies that’s unfortunately easily disproved by social media. Marina confronts her, then runs off and the next thing anybody knows, she’s dead, having posted self-made footage of her hanging/self-immolation online.

Laura feels incredibly guilty, but it turns out that this is only the start of troubles for her and her circle of friends. Nightmarish clips turn up in everybody’s feeds, seemingly posted by Laura. The error messages Laura gets when she tries to delete the material may be more disturbing to many viewers than the supernatural stuff that comes next.

The writers have come up with a worthwhile mythology (at a guess, the original title of the film might have been BLACK MIRRORS before they found out about the existence of the British Netflix series). There is indeed something eerie in reflections cast in switched-off computer screens, and there are snatches of other smart notions as well.

Director Verhoeven knows his way around a jump scare, and he also creates a contrast between scenic surroundings (Cape Town, South Africa stands in for coastal California) and dark, creepy corridors.

Still, there are big problems. There’s no reason ever shown why Marina specifically targets Laura, and the more we learn, the more it seems like there should be. Likewise, as we find out more about Marina, a talented if tormented artist, it seems like she should have been able to find some kind of social circle of her own. More, the rules become more flexible as the film goes along, until at last it seems that the movie no longer cares about its central gimmick.

Even so, there are some major assets. Debnam-Carey is a charismatic leading lady, sensitive and determined. There’s also the matter of one character having an uncommonly practical reaction to the increasing madness that makes for a great plot point.

FRIEND REQUEST isn’t the best horror movie of the year, or even the best Internet-based horror movie. However, it succeeds at delivering scares, surprises and some effective imagery, and for those jonesing for genre, it should suffice.

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