Friendship Game, The


“What’s your deepest, darkest desire?”

Main Cast: Peyton List, Kaitlyn Santa Juana

Director: Scooter Corkle

The first time I saw the trailer for the 2022 movie THE FRIENDSHIP GAME (written by Damien Ober—2 episodes of The OA—and directed by Scooter Corkle—HOLLOW IN THE LAND), my first thought was, “Well that looks like garbage.”  But then I found myself with a free night and I wanted to watch something on AMC+ since I do pay for the subscription, but rarely watch anything on there, so I was scrolling through the movies.  I decided since I’m specifically watching something on AMC+ I would pick an AMC+ exclusive movie, NOT a movie I could just as easily flip over to SHUDDER and watch.  There were a few options, and this was the newest, and also the one that seemed most likely to MAYBE show up on one of the horror movie review podcasts I listen to.

After all, THE FRIENDSHIP GAME is new (or so I thought; turns out it was released 5 months ago), and the look of the thing seems to follow the template laid out by such previous teen horror movies as WISH UPON, OUIJA, and FRIEND REQUEST.  Pretty people in danger without a whole lot of adult supervision, some supernatural force at work, and in the end I walk away no better or worse for the experience.

Yep.  That pretty much sums up this movie.

If you need some plot, the story goes like this:

Zooza (Peyton List, Cobra Kai), Rob (Brendan Meyer, COLOR OUT OF SPACE), Courtney (Kelcey Mawema, Superman & Lois), and Cotton (Kaitlyn Santa Juana, The Flash) are nearing the end of their post-graduation, pre-college summer.  Rob and Cotton are about to move away to college.  Courtney is waiting to hear back from the college she applied to, while Zooza is stuck in their small town with few options and little hope of ever escaping.

One day, Cotton buys this big metal ball that looks like a D&D die with another die inside it at a garage sale.  The woman she bought it from tells her it’s a game.  The purpose is to test your friendship and if, in the end, you remain friends, then you win.  But if you lose, you and your friends will die.

Sounds fun, Cotton thinks, and she buys it and brings it to her friends so they can all play The Friendship Game.  They gather in Cotton’s room in a circle, each lay hands on the device, and have to say out loud their deepest, darkest desire.

That’s it.  Cotton says her deepest darkest desire is for them not to become their parents.  Then they move to Zooza, but before she can say anything, we cut to a title card with Cotton’s name on it and we’re some undetermined time later at a party.

Cotton is desperate to find Zooza and Rob because they’re all friends, but Courtney, instead of saying yeah, they’re over there somewhere, tries to get Cotton to take some pills.  Cotton knocks the container out of her hand, then storms off, walks in on Rob and Zooza mid-stroke, then runs to her car and is choked to death by her doppleganger.

The next scene opens on a MISSING poster with Cotton’s face.

If you feel like you’re fifteen minutes into this movie and are totally friggin’ lost, welcome to the club

Hell, I was lost as soon as I saw the friend group.  Rob has “desperate to be friends with anyone who’ll give me the time of day” written all over him and I’m supposed to believe he’s been friends with these three women his entire life and not ONCE has tried to hook up with any of them?  Then again, I question ANY friend group larger than two.  My best friend in high school was Scott, and we had other friends who came in and out of our orbit—Chris, Vince, Randy—but it was me and Scott and the others came and went with the semesters.  I never believed that movie trope of a big gang of people who are ALL best friends.  No, it’s two people who are BEST friends, and then everyone else.  Prove me wrong.  Back to the movie.

From here on out, the rest of the movie is spent on several different threads that we just HOPE can all be tied together in the end so at least SOMETHING here makes some kind of sense.

We see Zooza at her dead-end job, we see the aftermath of a night between Zooza and Rob, we see Courtney receive her college acceptance letter and then wonder how: she had a 2.6 at best that last year.  And that’s all well and good for Courtney, we know from an earlier scene that her desire was to get an acceptance letter.  So we assume from here that everything that happens is the game giving them what they want, but it waits so damn long to reveal what Rob or Zooza want.  We can ASSUME what Rob wanted was a night with Zooza, but surely he didn’t SAY that out loud to the group!?!  And what about Zooza?  What did she want?  The movie wants to toy with us and try to draw out the suspense, but all it really drew out was the annoyance.  It absolutely REFUSED to give us anything until the last possible minute, and by then all our good will had been spent and we the audience have checked out.

Oh, and in the midst of all this, there’s a kid, Kyle Jr. (Dylan Schombing, Watchmen) who apparently has all the webcams in town bugged and is recording and logging it all on the computer in his bedroom when he’s supposed to be at day camp while his mother works.  And yes, that includes the webcam in Cotton’s room, so he’s got footage of the group playing The Friendship Game.  And footage of “Cotton crying” and “Cotton sleeping” and “Cotton Sex”.

I’ve seen how this movie ends and I’m still not entirely sure how or why this kid is here other than it leads to a chance for the movie to play with reality later on to mess with the main characters.  But, honestly, there had to be an easier, less confusing or annoying way to achieve the same outcome.

Anyway.  THE FRIENDSHIP GAME is just a muddled mess that doesn’t even have the decency to be the boring teen horror movie I came in expecting.  Oh, it’s still a boring teen horror movie, but there’s a template to these things, that spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, and this movie refused to use it.

The way the movie is structured—or the way we THINK it’s structured—is that we’re going to get four separate vignettes showcasing each character and how the game has affected their life, but it just never plays out like that, and it only gets more confusing and convoluted as we go.

Mostly, I just wanted to get to the end and HOPEFULLY we’d get a few answers to some questions, then the credits, and then I could get back to my life.

I guess the message here was real friendship can save the day?  Something like that?  Hell, I don’t know.  And I don’t care.  That should be this movie’s tagline: THE FRIENDSHIP GAME: I came, I saw, I was apathetic at best.

For me, most of my problem with this plot could have been solved with just a simple title card, from Cotton’s room to the party, maybe something that reads A WEEK LATER, or THE NEXT NIGHT, anything would have helped.  And from Cotton and her doppleganger to the MISSING posters all over town, another card with A WEEK LATER, or THE NEXT DAY on it.  Something, movie, give me SOMETHING here.  I’m trying REAL HARD to work with you, but you gotta give me something too.

Honestly, though, I kind of knew from the start that I was in trouble.  While I’ve never heard of the guy, and will probably never hear from him again, when one of the first things you see onscreen is a credit reading “a film by Scooter Corkle”, can anything good really follow that? FRIEND REQUEST was a crap movie.  THE FRIENDSHIP GAME wishes it could sit at that movie’s table.  And here I am, 1400 words in and I still don’t think I’ve properly conveyed just what a tangled mess of a story this movie was.  But if you don’t believe me, and you’ve got an AMC+ subscription, by all means, see for yourself. 

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