The Friendship Game is a horror movie about a mysterious game, acquired by four high school friends, that asks players to put their hands on a metal orb and state their deepest desires. The friendship between those players is then somehow magically put to the test. The film gets off on the wrong foot by rushing that setup. Literally in the first minute, a teen girl finds it at a yard sale and starts playing with her pals. We have no idea who these characters are or what the nature of their friendship is. It's the first of many frustrating things we're subjected to.
The friends are Zooza (Peyton List), Cotton (Kaitlyn Santa Juana), Courtney (Kelcey Mawema), and Rob (Brendan Meyer). Instead of letting us hear their desires right away, the film starts pointlessly jumping around in time, showing what happens to each of them at a party soon after playing. After the party, Cotton disappears and the others begin having weird hallucinations. But then there's a kid named Kyle (Dylan Schombing), who Zooza babysits. For reasons that are never credibly explained, he's hacked into Cotton's webcam and has a computer file filled with videos he took of her without her knowledge.
Does this sound incoherent? The Friendship Game is just getting warmed up. Kyle seemingly gets possessed (by what, the ball?), Rob begins talking about multiverses, and Cotton reappears in everyone's visions, sometimes being murdered and sometimes doing the murdering. Also confusing is the game itself. How does it work? Why do weird things happen to the characters after touching it? What powers it? Why would someone sell it at a garage sale, presumably aware of its evil capability? Those basic questions are never answered.
Director Scooter Corkle and writer Damien Ober have no clue what story they're telling. They simply have a series of half-baked ideas that are illogically, nonsensically mashed together. The orb is clearly meant to be to this movie what the puzzle box was to the Hellraiser series, yet a basic refusal to firmly establish its function and purpose creates a big black hole in the center. Everything else – characterization, suspense, meaning, entertainment value – gets sucked into that hole. When we don't understand what's going on or why it's going on, nothing matters.
The Friendship Game seemingly wants to say something about adolescent relationships and how hard it can be to lose them. That's most evident in Zooza's deepest desire (which nevertheless feels manufactured). Putting all the disparate pieces together in a coherent way and solidifying the nature of the game would have helped that register. Corkle's strategy is to throw a bunch of freaky visuals at the audience and hope they're fooled into believing something important is happening here.
It's not. And this is one of the most maddening, unpleasant-to-sit-through films of the year.
out of four
The Friendship Game is unrated, but contains bloody violence, sexuality, drug use, and strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.