The Friendship Game confuses incomprehensibility with complexity

The Friendship Game

It’s a tale of a sinister puzzle and its effect on a group of pals that wallows in sour jerk protagonists and baffling storytelling.

As a rule, I usually try not to rip low-budget horror movies too much since they tend to come from people who are trying to make a start in the industry and have to settle for material that might not exactly be up to snuff by most standards. But The Friendship Game is so aggravating in its laziness and unwillingness to even attempt to piece together something watchable that it at times boggles the mind.  

The Game begins with lifelong friends Zooza (Peyton List) and Cotton (Kaitlyn Santa Juana), who are about to be separated by the start of college in a few weeks, going to a yard sale. There, they come across a mysterious tchotchke that resembles a Rubix Cube knockoff. But it’s no mere cash-in on a fad. No, the enigmatic dealer tells the girls, it’s a friendship game—played in order to determine who’s a true friend. All the players have to do is touch a corner and confess their deepest desires to each other. If the friendship is truly strong, it will survive what happens next. 

Although the pitch is less than stellar, the two buy the gizmo, because otherwise there’d be no movie, and gather two other pals—pothead Court (Kelcey Mawema) and would-be stud Rob (Brendan Meyer), and play. Later, the crew attends a party where everything goes sideways. Cotton disappears, throwing a wrench into the other three’s relationship. Each of them begins to be haunted by strange visions—visions they become convinced are tied to the game. On the edges of the affair is Kyle (Dylan Schombing), a creepy kid who had been spying on Cotton via her webcam and who possesses videos suggesting that she may have been spirited away to another dimension or timeline or something. 

The Friendship Game
The Friendship Game – RLJ Entertainment

The Friendship Game is gibberish from start to finish—the kind of nonsense that, had it been made a decade earlier, might have been purchased so that the producers could jam a Cenobite or two into it and declare it a Hellraiser. It’s a bewildering riff on the likes of the sadly underrated The Box and the thankfully forgotten Wish Upon blended with some Donnie Darko-style mutterings about multiple dimensions and Internet-related silliness—seemingly trucked in from the likes of FearDotCom for good measure.  

The picture tries to make its narrative into a complex puzzle, but in practice, it’s simply so convoluted that it might as well be aiming for full incomprehensibility. Moreover, none of the key characters 1: are remotely interesting or sympathetic (Meyer’s Rob, for example, gives off Kyle Rittenhouse vibes throughout) and 2: demonstrate no visible connection to each other that would suggest their supposedly deep friendship. Finally, The Friendship Game’s conclusion is somehow simultaneously predictable, incomprehensible, and enraging.  

40 years ago, a film like The Friendship Game would have been granted a hit-and-run release in theaters and drive-ins backed by an ad campaign promising far more lurid thrills than the flick actually possessed to make a few quick bucks off unsuspecting audiences. 25 years ago, it probably would have gone directly to video, accompanied by equally grisly box art in the hopes of attracting renters whose first 10-15 choices had already been checked out. Today, despite a cursory drop in a few theaters, it will utilize streaming as its primary form of distribution. Viewers won’t even have to leave the comfort of their own homes in order to give this tedious and borderline incomprehensible silliness the hard pass that it so richly deserves. 

The Friendship Game opens in theaters and on demand on Friday, November 11th.

The Friendship Game Trailer:

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Peter Sobczynski

Peter Sobczynski is a Chicago-based filmcritic whose work can be seen at RogerEbert.com, EFilmcritic.com and, well, here. He is also on the board for the Chicago Critics Film Festival and the Chicago Film Critics Association. Yes, he once gave four stars to “Valerian” and he would do it again.

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