One takes on mind-reading duties when confronted by a moody but confused and generally chills-and-thrills-free horror film like “The Friendship Game.” However it came out, it’s often helpful to consider what they had in mind and what the filmmakers were going for.
This has “Ouija/Hellraiser” overtones as a mysterious dodecahedron is pitched by a little old lady at a “church flea market.” You play the game to find out who “your true friends are.” The horror formula this derives from dictates that a group of pals — four here — are tested by the demonic puzzle, one by one, and come up short.
Make the deaths creative, make the mystery something one person figures out before the others. So yeah, “Ouija,” “Hellraiser,” “Jumanji” without the fun, etc.
Somehow, director Scooter Corkle fails to find the frights in this. And it’s not like Damien Ober’s script sets anybody involved up for success.
Kaitlyn Santa Juana plays Cotton, the pink-haired teen relishing her last summer with her pals, tempted by the “true friends” test pitch of the helpful horror movie crone. She even offers a word of warning with a smile.
“If your friendship doesn’t survive it, neither will you!“
So gather round Souze (Peyton List), Courtney (Kelcey Mawema) and Robbie (Brendan Meyer). Put your fingers on the weird magic ball, and when asked, confess “your true desire.”
What happens when you lie to the magic 12 (sided) ball? Just you wait.
The story shifts back and forth in time, telling us each player’s experience and point of view. We get variations of the same story four times.
These two are hooking up. Those two might have in the past. This one loves her drugs. That one and this one want to flee this flea market town for the big city together.
But Cotton’s gone missing. What can be done?
The script doesn’t play by any hard and fast horror “rules.” The fates never seem deserved, no matter what sins against one’s friends one has committed.
And there’s this loner younger teen (Dylan Schombing) who seems to be watching or privy to what’s going on with them via webcams, video files and — I don’t know, magic?
Even the simplest plot can seem complicated when those filming it have their own difficulties figuring out what goes where and when and why they’re doing it.
The big knock about “Friendship Game” is the most basic one. Despite a shadow version of a character launching an attack from a car’s back seat, despite others being sucked into video screens, or seeing the horrors of the future through a funhouse mirror, nothing here manages a fright or a laugh.
The cast may be game, and a scene here or there benefits from List’s professional skills. She’s a “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” alumna and veteran of TV’s “Cobra Kai.” With 60 credits to her name, she knew more about what she was doing than anybody else on set.
But a performance that’s a bit better than the script was never going to save this “game.”
Rating: unrated, violence, sex, drugs
Cast: Peyton List, Kaitlyn Santa Juana, Kelcey Mawema, Dylan Schombing and Brendan Meyer
Credits: Directed by Scooter Corkle, scripted by Damien Ober. An RLJE release.
Running time: 1:27