While horror movies are often written off by many as simple excuses to throw blood and guts on screen, when horror is done right, it holds a magnifying glass up to society and tries to imagine what would happen if some element of our lives were taken to its logical, and terrifying, extreme. Considering the place that social media holds in the lives of billions of people, there is, absolutely, something scary about it which would likely make for a chilling film. Unfortunately, Friend Request is not that movie.
Alycia Debnam-Carey is Laura, a college student with friends. She has a handful of close friends in real life and more than 800 of them on Facebook. She's popular and happy, which perhaps is what attracts outcast Marina (Liesl Ahlers) to her. When Marina sends Laura a friend request, Laura, partially out of sympathy due to the fact that Marina has zero friends on Facebook, and partially out of being genuinely impressed by the animation Marina has created and posted to her page, accepts the request. The two do become acquaintances in person, but as Marina predictably begins to become a little too interested in her only social media friend, Laura starts to extricate herself from the relationship, which leads to a very public falling out, and Laura unfriending Marina. This, in turn, leads to Marina's apparent suicide, a video of which ends up on Laura's timeline for all to see.
What follows is a pretty much a paint-by-numbers horror movie. A supernatural force begins to kill off Laura's friends, and then post the videos of the deaths to her timeline, causing Laura's online friends to begin to unfriend her, because that's the appropriate reaction to the video of a homicide. We're even given a helpful graphic on the screen at regular intervals to let us know where Laura's friend count stands, because, somehow, we're supposed to care.
Alycia Debnam-Carey does a reasonable enough job in her role as Laura. She's a sympathetic enough character as the woman who did little to ask for all this. The problem is, for reasons that even the movie eventually admits, there's no reason to believe that Laura is in any real danger. The people at risk are those close to her, and they are never developed enough to care about. The purpose of Laura's friends is to act as cannon fodder for the killer, and fodder they are... as you'll find yourself witnessing a character's death while trying to remember their name.
Marina comes straight out of the horror movie cliche handbook. She's got black hair, a hoodie that never comes off, and a fascination with dark and depressing imagery. It would have been nice if the movie had found anybody other than "that weird girl with no friends" to be the villain. The subversion of any horror movie tropes would have been appreciated, but there are none here. Friend Request is literally any horror movie you've seen before with the words "but on Facebook" tacked to the end of the plot synopsis.
Struggling to find something to highlight in Friend Request, I'll call out the black and white animation we see on Marina's Facebook page. It's well done and the art style does seep into the film itself at a handful of points. Perhaps if it had done more of that, it would have been enough to make the movie feel like it actually had a unique style.
Even if you're willing to put up with the cliched characters and the "seen it all before" plot for the sake of a new horror experience, you won't find a very good one here. The jump scares are there, but only a couple of them are likely to impact your average horror movie fan. The death scenes are shocking only for their lack of shock. While the movie is violent and bloody enough to justify its R-rating, the deaths still feel subdued with the action often cutting away just when it seems something visually suprising might be about to take place.
If Friend Request was really trying to say something about the dangers of social media, there might be some value to the story, but the film either isn't interested in that, or is so bad at doing so that the message gets lost. Ultimately, not only will Friend Request fail to convince you to delete your Facebook account, it won't even be worthy of its own status update.