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Can "Friend Request" give us something fresh?

The Long Strange Journey of ‘Friend Request’

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Can Friend Request do what Unfriended couldn’t?

The fall movie lineup is filled with clowns, maniacal serial killers, and haunted cameras. But Simon Verhoeven’s “Friend Request” is one that we are keeping our eyes on, it has already seen a semi-successful German theatrical run in 2016 with over $2M at the box office in its first week.

The social media horror film has undergone a few different titles throughout its lifetime. At one point it was called “Unknown Error,” so as not to be confused with Levan Gabriadze’s stateside “Unfriended,” in 2014.

And even more convoluted, Friend Request was once itself called Unfriended because the American film was released over there as Unknown User, so no copyright infringement there.

Unlike the U.S film, Verhoeven’s doesn’t appear to be told through the “Live cam” feature on your laptop.

That gimmick may have run its course starting with Paranormal Activity 4 (2012) before being warmed-over by Unfriended.

Friend Request is an international release, it was filmed in Cape Town South Africa, and despite its German production roots, the cast speaks English, no subtitles needed.

For everything that the film makers try to do to set it apart, Friend Request also shares a plot point with the other film: a high school outsider commits suicide, getting vigilante justice from beyond the grave.

While Unfriended is told through Skype, and the supernatural entity plays BFFS against each other, Friend Request takes place in the outside world.

Our heroine Laura is very popular on social media and in an act of compassion adds an outcast named Marina to her friend’s list. When Laura inadvertently omits Marina from a social function she kills herself, setting into motion a series of strange deaths among Laura’s friends and prompting her to find out why.

The conceptualization of  2014’s Unfriended was a good one, a story told through the pop-up Skype and PM windows was a stylish filming gimmick. And having the entity force friends to reveal their true natures was a nice touch. But there were some hitches along the way. A few of the self-kills seemed overly exaggerated and clearly, the players were pantomiming as one would if they were trying to scare a younger sibling.

With Friend Request taking place in an open world, there is enough room for the director to show more by way of the monster and how each friend dies. He’s not limited to the computer screen to tell his story.

Although Friend Request may seem like another attempt at trying to scare audiences with something we use every day, this film has already been a  minor hit abroad and it’s rare those titles get a wide release in the U.S.

Friend Request opens nationwide on September 22.