Saturday, August 31, 2013

[Review] Among Friends

Bernadette, an eccentric psychiatrist who hates people but enjoys themed dinner parties (eww!), decides to throw one last get-together in her L.A. home before heading out for greener pastures. As the guests prepare for the 80s inspired murder mystery, they crimp their hair, fluff their mullets and abuse their substances, expecting a night filled with fun and games. But just as the party starts heating up, things take a scary turn when the guests suddenly find themselves immobilized and realize this murder mystery isn't quite a game after all.

Actress Danielle Harris, known for her roles in the Halloween films, among many other genre efforts, has rightfully secured her place in the horror community as a respected Scream Queen. Much like every other horror nerd on the planet, I can't get enough of her, and was very intrigued when I heard she was taking on a very different role for her next film; that of the director. Not only that, but this film, Among Friends, purported to be an 80s throwback in the vein of April Fools Day (1986). I knew I needed to keep my expectations low, but I just couldn't help myself. Quite frankly, it sounded like solid gold, and this was happening in my heart:

As a first time director, Ms. Harris's work is surely commendable, given the limitations of the film's obviously low budget. But regardless of how skilled she may or may not be, not much would have been able to save this film from its problematic screenplay. Among Friends, unfortunately, turned out to be quite the stinker, and that's a real shame.

Seated round the dinner table, the guests have been drugged and taped down, forced to play a sick game as comeuppance for their douchbaggery, as Bernadette sees fit. The purpose is to prove to them that not only are they terrible friends to each other, but terrible people who deserve to be punished. The idea of pitting friends against each other is certainly nothing new, but always makes for great entertainment when utilized properly. The particular way in which Bernadette attempts to turn them against each other, however, is beyond lame. She admits to having spy cams mounted all over her house, which has captured some of their private moments from her previous dinner parties. Every single video she shows them involves something sexual; one friend kisses this friend, another blows that friend, etc.

Really? Is that really the best a crazed psychiatrist can do? This scenario requires serious psychological manipulation, but because writer Alyssa Lobit (who also portrays Bernadette) failed to develop the characters properly, this proves impossible. Other than the hostess, I don't think I can recall any of the characters' names. All I can remember of them is that one of them is a struggling drug addict and another is a lesbian. Needless to say...this isn't exactly character development. Who are these people and why do we care to watch an entire movie about them? We sit there, watching these "friends" get tortured for what feels like an 8 hour running time, and we never get any answers. With characters we're forced to hate from the start and a pathetic psychopath who manages to invoke more eye rolls than fear, Among Friends makes for a very tedious and boring watch.

Was this meant to be thrilling? Was it meant to be funny? Or was it simply meant as nothing more than social commentary? In any case, none of it quite works, but I certainly appreciate the attempt. Ms. Harris handles the material as best she can with flash and panache, and with a bit more experience under her belt and better resources to work with, I'd be excited to see what she could truly accomplish as a director in the future. The cast of relative unknowns does a surprisingly decent job with no real complaints from me, although I was a bit disappointed that the lovable AJ Bowen and his beard were a bit underutilized here (he was still cute as fuck, though, even with vomit dripping down his chin for the majority of the film). Some cool cameos helped liven things up, too, including Danielle Harris herself, dressed as a very familiar character.

I really wanted to like this film and I feel as though I'm being just a bit too hard on it. Among Friends had some fun ideas and its heart in the right place, but just doesn't cut it due to a seriously underdeveloped screenplay. Nothing quite gets accomplished here, other than promoting the admonition: Don't live in L.A.


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