The terrifying new film Friend Request follows the college life of popular student Laura, who shares everything with her 800+ friends on social media sites. After accepting a friend request from a social outcast named Marina, Laura’s life changes for the worse and all her closest friends begin dying cruel deaths. Before her time is up, Laura must solve the mystery behind Marina and her social profile in order to break the deadly spell.
Not your traditional horror film, Friend Request confronts with some much-debated social issues surrounding how much our human interactions are shifting into cyberspace. How does the number of friends we have on social media really reflect how many we have in real life? Are we lulled into a sense of feeling like we know someone, without ever actually knowing them?
The idea for the film came from an experience Director Simon Verhoeven had after a distant acquaintance of his had died. “Weeks later, I noticed that his Facebook profile was still available online, unchanged. I shuddered at the idea that I might suddenly receive a message from him. Friend Request was born in that moment.”
Not necessarily adhering to the traditional traits of the genre, Friend Request highlights how times are changing. Classic horror is usually set in what Americans call the ‘Comfort Zone’. Somewhere you feel at your safest. Your home or school, a place you believe you are protected and surrounded by things that keep out of danger. Today’s ‘Comfort Zone’ is our social network- a digital extension of our home. An ever-present realm where we feel connected to friends at all times. Having that space and safety violated is a totally relevant and pressing fear.
Cyberbullying and flamewars represent the consequences of our new-age social lives lived online. Verhoeven says “condemnation of an unpopular person can get out of control and intimate details can be leaked. So-called ‘friends’ click through masses of information and, as a result, believe they know each other although in reality, they don’t. The likelihood of falling prey to illusions or even delusions in the online arena is heightened, and social networks make this happen even more easily and quickly.” It’s the perfect platform for a horror movie.
Friend Request explores the differences between relationships on social media and relationships in real life. Verhoeven explains “on Facebook it’s so simple to gather hordes of ‘friends’ because these people aren’t real friends in so many ways. Real life can suddenly seem very lonely. Our film is about a so-called ‘best friend’ who is anything but that. This leads to catastrophe as, in a flash, the ‘friendship’ transforms into the total opposite; disappointment and rage.”
By no means an outright criticism of social media, Friend Request is a highly entertaining and arresting horror film that investigates a theme that is massively relevant to our generation. It provides a fascinating observation of the dark side of social media and reminds us to make sure we keep one eye on reality.
Catch it in cinemas on 22nd April 2016.