Friend Request

‘unwatch’ ‘UNWATCH’

O h, goody. Cuz I don’t get enough xenophobia in my life already. It’s important in our current national atmosphere to regard all strange and isolated loners as potential threats, far more dangerous than groupthink, paranoia, or the power hungry. Get that message out there, film – that those with unique points of view, differing complexions or styles of clothing, and a general hesitation to join a crowd are best ignored or clipped so they have no ability to do the evil they obviously intend once they worm their way in.

My skepticism about this film arose in the very first scene. A prof walks in to his empty-ish lecture hall and announces that a student in his class has committed suicide. Three clues told me this moment wasn’t right: 1) Since when do you get campus news from a professor? 2) As neither the suicide video identifies the victim as a student, nor can the university in question find a record of the girl as a current student, how did the professor get this information? 3) There was no snot-nosed front-row suck-up asking, “is this gonna be on the test?”

Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is not pleased; now there’s one less person to “like” her status updates. The film gives us some background to let us know if there’s more in Laura’s expression than pure egotism. Nope, there isn’t. Ok, maybe I’m being unfair. Two weeks ago, Laura played eye games with Marina (Liesl Ahlers), the weird hooded goth kid in the back of the room. Laura has clearly selected her friends from a sorority catalog, so hanging with curdled-milk skin girl is not an option.

Marina, however, or “Ma Rina” as her cryptic facebook handle reads (oooooo, what does it mean?) sees enough in these glances to give Laura a Facebook Friend Request. Laura is put off by Ma Rina’s zero friend count (Laura has over 800), but quite enjoys the macabre animation on Ma’s page. And perhaps as some sort of Geek Outreach Program, Laura accepts the friendship. It takes exactly one half-assed “getting to know you” conversation for Marina to get clingy, and before long, Laura has had enough of the relationship. Unfriend, confrontation, suicide.

Then the real plot happens; Laura starts getting contact from Marina beyond the grave. The messages aren’t terribly nice and there’s something about seeing how Laura feels to be friendless. So we the audience anticipate Laura going from 800+ FB friends to zero, like Ma Rina. This is impossible, of course.  You can’t actually go from 800+ plus friends to zero (0) friends. By 800 … even by 100, you’ve collected at least a few people who were Facebook dabblers once, found it not to their liking, and never use it again. They won’t care whether you post crap like, “Charlottesville – best protest ever!” because they won’t ever see it. Surely enough, when Marina’s grisly combo hanging/immolation suicide selfie is posted on Laura’s page (“but I didn’t do it!”), Laura loses friends, awwwwwww.

Now, you’d think some part of Laura would actually be impressed, no? I mean, how often does a Facebook home page adequately describe the person in question? Almost never, right?  We’re always posting filtered impressions of ourselves. Yet Ma Rina’s feed clearly shows unsettling images of darkness, death, and the promotion of evil. Oh, that is just so her.

It’s difficult to tell whether the film feels the increasingly disturbing snuff films posted on Laura’s feed or Laura’s dissipating friend count is the bigger tragedy; for one thing, Laura is predictably unable to lose social media from her life. Being stalked in cyberspace? Get off cyberspace, call the police. This isn’t rocket science; this is computer science.

And then an unpleasant, xenophobic film just gets silly. As Laura’s friends slowly disappear by supernatural means, one of the remainder decides he ought to join in the murder spree. I can only imagine this actor’s interaction with the director:

“Ummm, why am I doing this?”
“Because you’re in a movie! Now shut up and knife that guy!”


Movies like this used to make me weep, now they just kinda make me tired. Friend Request reinforces our worst impulses towards conformity and plastic popularity. This isn’t just a sidebar; this is the movie’s theme – Laura would never have had a problem if she’d never given that freak the time of day. Yeah, way to embrace diversity, folks. You can totally judge a book by its cover. Uniqueness of thought, presentation, and personality should be suppressed at all times. This film is of German origin and could fit right in with 1930s Nazi propaganda. I’m not going to give it a zero because there is something to be said for vetting social media; that message should be loud-and-clear to all Americans by now, but certainly is not – I’m looking at you, folks still so easily swayed by obvious lies. Whatever reasonable message there is here, however, is swallowed up in a sea of nearly veiled bigotry and supernatural stupidity.

♪You’ve friend requested me
You’ve friend requested me
I can see our time ahead
There are piles and piles
Of your cat named ”Fred”
When I’d rather see you, instead
And the cringe when you speak freely
Yeah, you’ve friend requested me♫

Rated R, 92 Minutes
Director: Simon Verhoeven
Writer: Matthew Ballen & Philip & Simon Verhoeven
Genre: Millennial criticism of the worst kind
Type of being most likely to enjoy this film: Geez, I dunno, undead purveyors of social media, maybe?
Type of being least likely to enjoy this film: FB users

♪ Parody Inspired by “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”

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