"The Friendship Game" held promise but loses way in the game

The Friendship Game (2022)

A mysterious-looking orb that ruins your life and friendships is a fine jumping-off point for a horror movie. “Win together or die alone” is also a decently menacing tagline. But where do you go from there? Given the recent “Hellraiser,” director Scooter Corkle’s “The Friendship Game” is especially reminiscent of the Lament Configuration puzzle box in that this game can reveal your deepest, innermost desires. No flesh will be ripped apart, but friendships will be tested and ripped apart. The end result, however, makes one almost long for the marginally entertaining silliness of 2017’s “Wish Upon,” a “monkey paw” tale for teenyboppers. 

17-year-old Cotton (Kaitlyn Santa Juana) finds this $10 “friendship game” object with her best friend, Zooza/Susan (Peyton List), at a yard sale by a creepy woman. Though they stare at the woman like she has three heads, Cotton buys it and they gather their two other friends, Rob (Brendan Meyer), and Court (Kelcey Mawema), to play. After a party they all attend, Cotton goes missing. Meanwhile, Zooza realizes her babysitting charge, Kyle (Dylan Schombing), is a withdrawn computer hacker who somehow has access to Cotton's webcam videos and has kept a log of them. Does this hacker kid have anything to do with “the friendship game,” or if not, how do these friends beat the game and get Cotton back? What kind of parents name their kids “Cotton”? Maybe the parents were big “Hellraiser” fans. Kirsty and Frank Cotton, hello? 

These questions shouldn’t distract one while watching a horror movie, but here we are with this good-looking yet incoherently assembled teen drama. Purely on a fundamental level, Damien Ober’s script is so quick in its setup that we have no idea who these characters are. We should have more of a sense of their personal dynamics since the whole point of the story is to see their friendship tested. Maybe their hairstyles and hair colors are supposed to count as personalities, but who knows? The actors do their best with what they're given, especially a capable Peyton List (Netflix’s “Cobra Kai”). As for the “friendship game” itself, a little ambiguity is fine, but how this orb works its evil game, blurring reality, hallucinations, and alternate universes, is never quite clear. That becomes frustrating, not frightening or creepy. While horrific things do happen, it’s usually in the form of pixelated and strobe images, which only add to the confusion. A movie about lasting high school friendships being put to the test should be relatable and even compelling, and after “The Friendship Game,” we’re still waiting on that movie to be made. In this case, hate the players, not the game. 

Grade: C -

RLJE Films is releasing “The Friendship Game” (87 min.) in select theaters, on demand and digital on November 11, 2022.