The horror trope that “social media can get you killed” has already led to assorted thrillers with the title “Unfriended,” one of them popular enough to warrant “Unfriended 2.” So that working title for the movie that became “Friend Request” had to be abandoned.
But not the basic Spawn of Agatha Christie (and Poe before her) plot — a killer picking off your “friends list,” with, of course, a supernatural twist.
After a stylish opening, which director Simon Verhoeven (son of Michael, director of the German classics “The Nasty Girl” and “The White Rose”) uses the morbidly Gothic animations of our villain to establish her talent, loneliness and twisted state of mind, the picture turns strictly paint-by-numbers, with each “shocking” jolt and death less hair-raising than the one before it.
It’s about the most popular girl in college, stalked by a disturbed classmate whom she then unfriends. Ms. Popularity soon finds her “friends list” shrinking as she loses control of her social media accounts, and as tormentor kills those closest to her — after that tormentor’s death.
Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) lives her life on social media — the parties with her Newkirk (California) College roommates (Brit Morgan, Brooke Markham), her romance with the med student (William Moseley) and the friendship with the tech nerd (Conor Paolo) who never quite got over her.
Laura’s a psyche major and a nice kid, which is why she accepts the friend request from creepy, pale hoodie-obsessed Ma Rina (Liesl Ahlers). As no good deed in our privacy-ending era goes unpunished, Ma Rina, who manically yanks out her hair (“Trichotillomania,” Laura correctly diagnoses) clings to her one-and-only online “friend.”
Until turning on that friend, and then killing herself, something she video recorded for the whole campus to see. Laura is set up to lose every friend — real and online — she has, one way or the other.
Verhoeven (the German film “Men in the City” is his major credit) has no ear for colloquial English. Whatever morbid jokes the script (which he co-wrote) tries to pass off, he fails to get a take out of his actors that lets the funny line land.
All the frights are of the flash-edit cheap surprise variety, and none of the performers manage to break through the empathy barrier, save for Debnam-Carey, and that’s more a function of the character than a tribute to the performance of the Australian from “Fear the Walking Dead.”
With no real suspense and little empathy, “Friend Request” devolves into your standard horror cast-killer time-killer. There are more frights in the trailers for upcoming Halloween horror films preceding showings of this — “Jigsaw” and “Happy Death Day” among them.
MPAA Rating: R for horror violence, disturbing images, and language
Cast: Alycia Debnam-Carey, William Moseley, Brit Morgan, Brooke Markham, Conor Paolo
Credits: Simon Verhoeven, script by Matthew Ballen, Philip Koch and Simon Verhoeven. An Entertainment Studios release.
Running Time: 1:32