Friend Request and Flatliners [Twofer Review by SpeicalK]
After seeing the Thursday evening preview of a new horror film, I typically rush home to crank out my thoughts to help you, dear readers, determine whether it’s a must-see, or whether you should forget it was ever released in the first place. But you may have noticed that two opening nights in this fall’s frightening lead-up to Halloween—Friend Request and Flatliners—have come and gone without a peep from me. Oh trust me, I saw both films, I just kept finding extremely legitimate reasons to avoid writing about either. “It’s too late to start tonight,” for example, or “A dogs-trying-to-befriend-cats YouTube video with goats?!”
And then I realized the problem—both films were so ridiculously mediocre that I’d rather claw my own eyes out than sit down to write about them individually. So here we are—me with my vision intact, and you with a fun new way to read about the latest scary movie releases: a two-for-one Special…K.
Let’s lay some groundwork first. In Friend Request, our protagonist Laura is a beautiful, popular, and friendly college girl who manages to have a solid moral compass and doesn’t let her ego get out of control—sooo relatable, right? One
day, a brooding Sméagol of a girl named Marina friends Laura on Facebook, and despite Laura’s best efforts to be cordial, she gets creeped out when Marina gets all “my precious” with her, and Laura unfriends her. Bad move. Marina kills herself, films it, and posts it on Laura’s Facebook timeline, but Laura can’t seem to delete it or the growing number of disturbing posts that pop up on her profile. Laura’s friend list starts plummeting, her pals start getting “deleted” in real life, and we soon find ourselves asking whether she can escape this bad after-school special on the perils of online bullying from the grave.
Meanwhile, Flatliners is a remake of a 1990 film that probably singlehandedly prevented the game from being called “Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Seriously, check out the cast list. In the 2017 redux, a group of med students led by Ellen Page starts experimenting with reaching the brink of death and being revived in the nick of time. Aka, “medical school.” But after their near-death experiences, the students start to see the nightmares of their pasts resurface in the daylight with increasingly terrifying consequences. They soon learn that they may have to face their greatest fears in order to survive.
But despite their seemingly divergent plotlines, these films are two pedestrian peas in a lukewarm pod.
First, we have the horrors of modern technology. Whether it’s everyone’s favorite social media platform or the latest in experimental medicine, each film takes a stab at dragging the horror genre across the cheese grater of technological advancement. You can predict the results. As I’ve explained before, it’s really hard to make technology scary through a traditional approach to horror. Unless you’re going all in and crafting psychological thrills à la Black Mirror, it’s just really hard to get it right without risking that your themes will be outdated before the film even opens. Although both Friend Request and Flatliners have pretty annoying jump scares, neither film manages to offer up a single moment of true, lingering horror.
The second thing these films have in common is that they’ve both been done before. Flatliners was literally already tried 27 years ago, and much like a corpse better left undisturbed, we should have left this film in the age of big hair and even bigger shoulder pads. Unlike this year’s It remake, Flatliners leaves out everything that the original film got right (except for Kiefer Sutherland, he stays), and keeps in all the stuff that today’s generation has simply grown out of—the group-of-friends approach to horror, the cheesy emotional solution to a paranormal problem, and the scares that have long become clichés for the genre. I swear, if I had a nickel for every rain-soaked little ghostly girl with hair covering her face that I’ve seen on the big screen in the past decade…
And then we have Unfriended—sorry—Friend Request. Which isn’t exactly a remake, but might as well be, and not only because it seems to have taken the 2015 film and played “let’s make money on the same idea while still avoiding a lawsuit” with it. In addition, I couldn’t help but notice that Friend Request closely resembles the plotline and even the atmosphere of a short Argentinian film titled Alexia, but I couldn’t unearth any tangible connection between the two. Maybe Friend Request was legitimately based on Alexia and my Google skills are lacking. Or maybe social-media-related themes have been so prevalent these days that two plotlines were bound to stumble over each other eventually. Or heck, maybe Friend Request‘s filmmakers simply hoped nobody would notice. Whatever the reason, if you’ve seen Alexia, you’ve pretty much seen Friend Request.
And for our third and final commonality: I fell asleep during the climax of each film, only to regain consciousness in time for the dénouement. It wasn’t until this fact dawned on me that I knew I had to treat you, dear readers, to a twofer.
SpecialK Verdict: Unless you’re low on z’s and have money to burn, you can skip these duds. They’ve made for an unacceptably substandard few weeks of filmgoing, but I’m keeping the front door open for the rest of the Halloween season, which I’m really hoping will light it up.
Friend Request opened in the U.S. on September 22, and Flatliners opened on September 29.
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