THE FRIENDSHIP GAME -- Peyton List Shines in this Wonderful Lovecraftian Horror Flick
Review by Cole Groth
2022 has been an incredible year for horror films. Nope, X, Barbarian, and Scream all stand out for their unique takes on the genre, and while the year moves to a close, it’s clear that the best might be saved for last. With a unique premise, great special effects, a terrifying story, and an excellent cast, The Friendship Game is one of the best scary movies of the last year. At a very brief 87 minutes, this film is an excellent example of Lovecraftian horror that's just accessible as other major films in the somewhat overcrowded genre.
The Friendship Game tells the story of four friends, Zooza (Peyton List), Courtney (Kelcey Mawema), Rob (Brendan Meyer), and Cotton (Kaitlyn Santa Juana). When the closest pair out of the four, Zooza and Cotton, purchase a strange object from a garage scale that promises to “test their friendships,” their worlds change forever. After the four perform a ritual with the object, they go out for a night of partying. This night is the film’s core since we visit different people’s perspectives throughout to unravel what happened during the party slowly. At first, we learn that Cotton has a less-than-pleasant night, and she goes missing shortly after. The final three friends are tested throughout the wild 80 minutes that follow, with disastrous consequences.
The series of events throughout the film blur the line between reality and insanity. It’s intentionally hard to follow, which causes a great deal of confusion at times, but ultimately adds to a thrilling adventure through time and space. Since each character is explored one at a time, we learn a lot about their motivations and backgrounds, making the group of friends feel remarkably realistic. One of the core scenes that is revisited frequently is a raging party. The dynamics of the friend group at the party work very well, and it’s nice to see a bunch of drunk teenagers actually behave as a drunken teenager would. The balance between emotional development and horror is kept consistent through this narrative structure, too. While this initially seems like a standard horror film, we’re quickly shown that this isn’t true. The being behind the horror remains mostly ambiguous, an intelligent choice from director Scooter Corkle. It starts as a series of unsettling events, but this leads into a wild third act with plenty of gore to make horror fans of types happy.
The excellent casting of the main four makes this film work so well. Since the cast is so tiny, each performance must stand out. While everybody does a good job, Peyton List shines brighter than everybody else. She does an incredible job at making Zooza feel like more than just a movie character. List’s complicated portrayal cements the rest of the group as a relatable group of people. Kaitlyn Santa Juana’s performance as Cotton is also great. She’s more emotional than Zooza, and some of the trauma that she faces would not have felt real if her performance wasn’t so excellent. Kelcey Mawema and Brendan Meyer aren’t given as much development, but their characters are also great. Not to be missed is Dylan Schombing as a creepy kid hacker. Typically, a role like his would be torturous, but he adds depth to the character that’s appreciated.
In addition to the excellent acting, the cinematography and special effects are notably superb. RLJE Films, the studio behind this, has distributed films like Mandy and Color Out of Space, which makes sense after seeing the zany nightmare sequences. It’s a colorful blend of aesthetically pleasing camera angles and terrifying shots. The excellent cinematography is enhanced through both the digital and the practical effects. When this film gets gory, it does a great job. It gets gross at the end and a whole lot of fun.
Damien Ober’s phenomenal script explores modern teenage friendships frighteningly well. Being in the same age group as the character in this film, it’s highly unusual to see a group of teenagers that aren’t spouting cringe-worthy and out-of-date dialogue. After participating in the ritual, the friendship of the three friends becomes increasingly tense, with each sequence building on the fear that everybody has of losing their friends. Each person had to whisper their darkest desire, and they seemingly came true at the expense of their sanity. The premise is fun and explored to its fullest.
The Friendship Game is both a tender societal commentary on our generation and a wild adventure of a horror film. It’s a messy ride sometimes, but it’s still an incredible time offering many scares. Independent horror films that are this polished are so rare, and anyone who considers themself a fan of this genre should check this one out. It’s a time-twisting, mind-bending, and frightening experience that’s exceptionally easy to watch because of its short runtime. Hopefully, this is the start of a much bigger career for everybody involved because they deserve it after making this. Horror films in 2022 started strong, and if we’re fortunate enough to have a few more films like The Friendship Game, this year will end even stronger.
The Friendship Game releases in theaters and on-demand starting November 11th.
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