Friend Request

The bottom of the compost pile when it comes to horror subgenres, is undoubtedly social media horrors.

And Friend Request is no different, a rotten stinker predicated on a bullied spectral spookie who hijacks Facebook pages with gross content and torments her assailants.

But I Know What You Did This Summer this is not as the connection between the revenge seeker and the victims is barely there.

Laura is an uber-popular coed at a made-up California College populated by central casting types who chronicle their lavish lifestyles in Malibu, or some such place. Laura’s got 800 friends, 800 more than goth cliche loner, Marina, who sits in the back of psych class and pulls her hair out (maybe frustrated by the lack of quality slasher films tackling social media). To her credit, Laura reaches out to the outcast, only to be cyber-stalked and abused for her troubles.

Marina begins sending disturbing content to Laura’s friends, and posting snuff material as Laura (including a self-immolation vid), getting her expelled and making her the college pariah. Laura enlists the help of a hacker friend, who finds that the backend code is some witchcraft mumbo jumbo.

Meanwhile, turns out there’s little record of Marina even attending the school (maybe Felicity Huffman was lending a helping hand).

While the horror genre reflects cultural anxieties and has done so with aplomb in the past, whether it’s creeping conformity/communism in Invasion of the Body Snatchers or rampant consumerism of Dawn of the Dead,  however to date, no legit offering has adequately dealt with how social media is warping our minds, disrupting our concentration and making us depressed.

Whether it’s #horror, iMurders, Unfriended, or the best among them, Cam (which is a compliment so back-handed it should be used to slap a bitch) none can get out of their own way to tackle broader social implications of Pavlovian manipulation.

** (out of 5)

[Check out our Friend Request podcast!]

Hereditary

The only horror movie subgenre routinely lauded by critics is the supernatural one, which puts the writers of this site at a distinct disadvantage: we don’t care for it.

Supernatural horrors (like Hereditary, to a certain extent) are punch-pullers, which downshift gory elements to get teen bums in seats and bypass R-ratings.

With a dearth of deaths, and absent the uber-violence of other genres, supernatural thrillers are like a guitar missing its E-strings: they are limited in the extent with which they can compose a full melody, and create broader frights.

Hereditary, (much like ghostly genre standout The Changeling), to its credit depicts a jarring death to kick things into gear and to haunt the living.

Annie, an early-round exit from the Mother of the Year tournament, lets her 13-year-old daughter, Charlie go to a house party with her older, stoner old son, Peter. Charlie gets a food allergy and a wigged out Peter guns it in his parents’ car, hoping to get his sister to a hospital as anaphylactic shock sets in, and kills her in the process.

Charlie is posthumously haunting the home’s inhabitants, with Annie second guessing her judgement (and with good reason: any parent with a lick of sense would notice Peter’s bloodshot Eeyore visage).

From there, guilt wracks the mother-son dynamic, with a helpless psychiatrist patriarch, Stephen, helplessly looking on (played by Gabriel Byrne) as Annie’s mother passes away too and her grave is desecrated.

This is bitter, unflinching, dynamite stuff, which doesn’t even need an actual haunting when the characters are so metaphorically haunted by Charlie’s passing.

Unfortunately, Hereditary’s pacing suffers, and debut director Ari Aster doesn’t put his foot on the gas after the near-vehicular manslaughter leaving a noticeable sag in the middle (this is a 127-minute run-time)

Annie (Toni Collette) is a miniature artist, and this is used to maximum effect in Hereditary very quirky and arresting opener. However, with each successive pass this becomes more and more precious and affected as she buries herself in her craft to escape.

Still, the good outweighs the bad, and the ending’s super fun too.

***1/4 (out of 5)