Dir. Scooter Corkle (2022)
A group of teens play a game that tests the boundaries of their friendship.
Teen horror holds a special place in my heart, and despite its tendency to be perhaps less well-formed than other forms of horror, there is a lot of fun to be had with movies that are more geared towards a younger audience. Movies like Truth or Dare, Happy Death Day, and Talk To Me are a whole lot of fun if you can get past the desire to watch critically-acclaimed horror. Which, if we're being honest, is rare enough as it is. Hell, you could even make the case that the vast majority of slasher films are, in essence, teen horror movies. While I'm a big fan of the genre as a whole, there is definitely a lower hit-to-miss ratio than in a lot of other genres within horror, and 2022's The Friendship Game is definitely in the latter category.
Zooza (Peyton List, Cobra Kai), Rob (Brendan Meyer, Color Out of Space), Courtney (Kelcey Mawema, Totally Killer), and Cotton (Kaitlyn Santa Juana, The Flash) are a group of friends who have recently graduated high school and are not looking forward to their friendships being tested as they move forward in their lives. They decide to play a game that Cotton found at a flea market, a game that forces them to tell each other their deepest desires, threatening that if their friendship doesn't survive the revelations, they won't either. Of course, things immediately go awry, and when Cotton goes missing, the group must band together to find out what happened to her.
Unfortunately, it is more than the game that goes awry. The Friendship Game has some of the worst editing that I've ever seen, with scenes that are jumbled together with such frequency, and time leaps that are jarringly out of place, that it's hard to keep track of what's happening until the end of the film. The script makes no sense, and while the actors do a good enough job of carrying the film, especially star Peyton List, they aren't given a whole lot to work with. The device at the center of the film, which tries it's best to be the Lament Configuration, looks more like a repainted children's learning toy about putting pegs into their corresponding shapes. The ending, which is essentially a teen horror version of "it was all a dream," negates literally everything that has happened within the film up until that point. It's almost entirely bloodless, which tracks pretty well seeing as almost nothing actually happens throughout the entire movie anyway.
Negatives aside, the movie does do a fairly adequate job of building suspense. There are some genuinely creepy moments, including one jump scare that actually got me as well. The presence of Kyle (Dylan Schombing, Watchmen), while completely unnecessary to the plot of the film other than to serve as a deus ex machina that shows the characters what "actually happened," does make the film a bit creepier than it otherwise would have been. Within the bare bones of the film is a movie that could have actually been entertaining without some lackluster performances from the crew behind the scenes. It serves its purpose of being a forgettable teen mystery/thriller, though it is certainly the worst of the "teens play a game that results in their death" subgenre that was all the rave a few years back.
It's always a shame when a film fails to live up to its conceptual framework. The Friendship Game is not, ultimately, about either games or friendship. It is, instead, a meditation on people seeking to achieve their greatest desires and how those desires can impact other people. I mean, I guess that's what its about. That's what it tries to be about, anyway. Unfortunately, the lasting impact of the film will be one that you'll likely start watching again a couple of years after your first watch because it was so forgettable the first time, and then realize about halfway through that you've already seen it and didn't like it and have to decide whether or not you will finish your second viewing. If you're revisiting the film a second time, I highly encourage you to give up on your efforts to finish it and check out one of the other, better options within the genre instead.
Who this movie is for: Teen horror fans, Mystery/thriller lovers, Selfish teenagers
Bottom line: There's not a whole lot to love about this one. It's a fairly typical teen horror that's even worse than they usually are, and despite a couple of decent performances by its stars, it fails to achieve the heights that it promises. It's a decent concept, though, and while it's certainly done better elsewhere, you might find just enough here to make it worth a watch. It has been done better, though, and you're better served seeking out those films regardless.