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Friend Request (2016)


Through A Screen Darkly

Starting as a cautionary tale about cyber-bullying, Friend Request morphs into quite something else along the way to a rather predictable ending but is a pretty enjoyable ride. The prologue, in which a lonely student commits a decidedly foolproof form of suicide, is a mistake, as it makes one suspects too early that more than the power of Facebook friendship is at work in the ordeal faced by Laura, a nice girl whose online popularity takes a sudden nosedive when she decides, half from pity and half from an ill-advised taste for gothic graphics, to befriend otaku in residence Marina, the one ugly goth chick with zero friends and stickers on her laptop.

What the movie does best is visualising the dark cormers of Marina’s loneliness, switching to animation scenes which make complete sense considering her personnality. She’s very tortured, Marina, and she doesn’t take rebutal in a graceful way. After she pushes too hard to be invited to Laura’s birthday party and discovers, as the diligent little stalker she is, that the alleged romantic diner with the boyfriend includes in fact everyone but her, she has one of her mood swings, involving tearing off her own hair and hacking into Laura’s profile to send the suicide video to all her contacts. Most of them moderately enjoy the view and her popularity starts decreasing, wittily measured by an onscreen counter. But that’s only the beginning of her troubles as her friends start dropping like flies or, more exactly, wasps.

Marina is a social ghost, with no real name or social security number. Should the movie have sticked to that it could have been better, the conflict between virtual popularity and social inexistence a nifty idea, actualising the Single White Female formula for the Facebook generation. Granted, it would have required a major suspension of disbelief, but that’s the paradox of our day and age: it’s easier to write Marina as an actual witch than a tech wizard, because it allows all sorts of (sometimes successful) visuals, like in a scene where a computer room becomes a spooky art installation.

Machines do not connect well with witchcraft. One of the first movies to attempt this unholy union was Evil Speak, a 80s turkey in which the kind of guy we now call a nerd used a computer to evoke a demon from some ancient evil book, allowing revenge on his jock bullies. The same kind of naive technological possession is at work here, including printers with endless toner cartridges and undecipherable source codes. Some better ideas appear to counterbalance this weakness though, like the analogy made between the computer screen and the dark mirror used by witches, or the Facebook unwanted friend request as an occult spell, potentialy harbouring death and destruction.

The death scenes are quite interesting for an amateur of the genre. the first one relies too heavily on witchcraft, another writing mistake further screenplay polishing could have avoided, but they get better. A Linda Blair moment at the hospital elicits giggles; there is nevertheless something truly spooky about someone so intent on dying that she tries again, differently, as soon as she wakes up.

In the end, evil wins because there is no end to it. Friend Request, in spite of its imperfections or limits, is a legitimate way to spend some time wondering what our lives would be like if Mark Zuckerberg was a wizard in more than the technological sense.

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