Good horror movies have a way of catching their moment in history, even if they don’t always intend to.
Think about the signature films by two recently deceased horror masters, and the way they serve as black mirrors for their times: George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), which chews through the late ’60s with zombie-focused intensity, and Tobe Hooper’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974), which conveys the disillusionment and homegrown violence of the immediate aftermath of the ’60s.
Watch “Night of the Living Dead” today, and you’ll learn a lot more about the mood of 1968 than you will watching “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” despite the supernatural device.
This week’s horror opening wants to say something about the world we live in. On that score, it’s out of date.
“Friend Request” is all about the dangers of Facebook and social media, so maybe it could have gotten a pass in 2011. The alarm — which has nothing to do with Facebook’s controversial algorithms or alleged biases — seems a little outdated now. Do college students still use Facebook? If so, they will find the sorts of lessons here that a 1959 movie might have noted about the barbaric allure of rock ‘n’ roll.
At an average California university, Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey, a “Fear the Walking Dead” cast member) is enviably popular — her Facebook friends number over 800. She’s not a mean girl, and her kindness leads her to accept a friend request from Marina (Liesl Ahlers), a spooky loner who posts violent videos and quickly becomes obsessed with Laura.
This culminates in what should be a signature moment in any movie about Facebook: The fury of the Facebook friend who sees posted photographs of a party to which she was not invited. Marina fakes her own suicide and then causes mischief that will make Laura’s friend tally drastically decline — a process we see onscreen, delivered with all the drama of the stock market collapse of 1929.
Having noted the movie’s passe subject, we must also note that it is effectively made. The director, Simon Verhoeven, is German, the son of director Michael Verhoeven (who did the excellent “The Nasty Girl”) and veteran actress Senta Berger.
If the story is standard teen-horror material, Verhoeven plays honestly by it, laying out the scares in crisp fashion and building a few genuinely WTF moments, if not much LOL.
Will there be a scene in a ruined old building where one character turns to another and says, “Did you check the basement?” Of course there will. But certain conventions must be allowed.
Verhoeven even lands a few punches in the social-comment realm, including a scene in a school library — a place that used to be full of books, and is now lined with rows of computers — in which the monitors all go crazy at once. And there’s the shrewd linking of the ancient occult “black mirror” with current slang about the blank screen of the computer.
Contrary to popular opinion, horror movies are never entirely out of ideas. As “Friend Request” demonstrates, it’s all in how you do it.
“Friend Request” (2 stars)
A horror flick about the dangers of Facebook, which puts it a little behind the times. Still, Simon Verhoeven’s film is effectively done: a popular college student (Alycia Debnam-Carey) makes a Facebook friend of an obsessive kook, with many spooky results.
Rating: R, for violence, language
Opening Friday: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Pacific Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall