Written by: Matt Patti | November 10th, 2022
The Friendship Game (Scooter Corkle, 2022) 2 out of 4 stars.
How strong are your friendships? If you’re like most people, you may find that you have some very strong connections and some that are less powerful and a bit shakier. Most of us are able to identify our “best friends,” but sometimes lines can be blurred as relationships change over time. In director Scooter Corkle’s The Friendship Game, a group of friends are put to the test to see how strong their friendships really are. However, the group begins to have doubts as to whether their true friends can actually be trusted. Unfortunately, in a similar way, the viewer of The Friendship Game also becomes quite skeptical, and questions if they can put faith in the filmmakers to deliver an engaging, unique experience. Spoiler alert: they can’t.
In The Friendship Game, best friends Zooza (Peyton List, Netflix’s Cobra Kai series), Cotton (Kaitlyn Santa Juana), Rob (Brendan Meyer, Color Out of Space), and Courtney (Kelcey Mawema, Honor Society) are tormented by a strange object. The object, known as the “Friendship Game,” is a metallic sphere that Cotton bought at a yard sale. The point of the object and the game is for friends to all put their hands on it at the exact same time and express their deepest desires. Once this is done, the game is said to test all participants’ friendships with each other. The group finds that their deepest desires are all met shortly after playing the game. Sadly for them, grave consequences follow, as Cotton, the first to question her friendships, disappears. Zooza, Rob, and Courtney all work together in an attempt to find her, but at the same time find their own friendships being put to the test, as well.
The premise of The Friendship Game is nothing overly new, and the film borrows quite a bit from other movies. It has a bit of a unique twist on the run-of-the-mill ritual films, though, with the metal sphere specifically functioning to test a friend group’s loyalty to one another, and therefore I was excited to see what the filmmakers could do with it. Sadly, they don’t do much … merely copying many clichés.
The Friendship Game gets down to the nitty gritty right from the start, beginning the story at the very moment when Cotton purchases the metal sphere. While in some instances I appreciate trimming the fat when it comes to runtime, I feel this choice is detrimental as the audience doesn’t get to spend an ample amount of time with the friend group before the strange happenings occur. We never have time to get acquainted with Zooza, Cotton, Rob, and Courtney, and therefore the viewer finds it hard to connect with any of them, and many of them wind up blending together due to few unique characteristics amongst them all.
The main issue of The Friendship Game, and one that contributes to its lack of engaging characters, is its pacing, which is all over the place, with the film starting out with a systematic formula and then completely abandoning it halfway through. Still, the abandonment might be for the better, as the first half presents a perplexing, unattractive layout consisting of jumping around from the friends playing the game, to a party, to back to the friends playing the game, to the party again, over and over and over with flashbacks mixed in between. That recipe for failure almost completely loses our attention until the filmmakers finally decide to call it a quits, though when they do the film slows down tremendously.
There are some bright spots that, if given a bit more time and spotlight, could likely save the end product. These include some effective scenes of suspense, well-used jump scares, and some creative, unique visuals that dazzle at times but get a bit overused by the end. The best aspect of The Friendship Game is its third act, however, which wakes up an audience that has likely gone into a snooze by this point and introduces some emotionally appealing and attention-grabbing scenes, intercut all at the same time. This, paired with some very poignant themes and thought-provoking questions, gives the film an almost Requiem for a Dream-style conclusion, if only in its technical merit and appeal to the human psyche.
In the end, The Friendship Game can’t quite win us over. Due to the nauseating, head-scratching pacing of its first half, its uninspiring characters, and its not-so-unique idea, the movie loses points. Even with a compelling third act and some impressive visuals and use of scare tactics, the overarching plot can’t hold the film together enough to result in a satisfying experience. Just as the group of friends begins to lose trust in each other, the audience loses trust in the filmmakers until the third act restores a bit of hope. However, by then, it’s too little too late.