There was a time when I paid much closer attention to cinema, but I think I've well and truly lost touch. The cover for Among Friends makes a big deal about it being directed by Danielle Harris, and I had no idea who she was. Her credits listed on the cover are Halloween 1 and 2, Hatchet 2 and 3, and See No Evil 2. I claim to like slasher movies, but even I started to doubt my cred when I realised I've seen exactly one of those movies. I got to get out less so I can start catching up on slice and dicers!
|Director: Danielle Harris
Starring: Christopher Backus, Jennifer Blanc, AJ Bowen, Dana Daurey, Kane Hodder
Screenplay: Alyssa Lobit
I tried to start making amends by watching Among Friends, which revolves around an 80s themed gathering. A group of friends arrive for a dinner party to find that the host has decided the function should be one giant party game. The game is a murder mystery, and the friends start searching the house for clues so they can solve the mystery like they drove around in a 70s van with a talking great dane. The game seems cheesy at first, but after a while the frivolity takes a darker turn when the host starts playing a one woman, torture version of The Last Supper.
The first comparison I thought of with Among Friends wasn't The Last Supper, but rather April Fool's Day (1986). Fortunately there is more going on in Among Friends than in that one, which is a pretty good trick given the majority of the film takes the My Dinner with Andre approach and focuses on people sitting at a table. In the interest of full disclosure I haven't seen My Dinner with Andre, but I'd guess that it featured less torture. Among Friends has other influences than My Dinner with Andre, because there have been plenty of other party oriented horror movies for it to draw inspiration from, so Among Friends sets itself apart from a lot of its party horror piers by being more extreme. It's not gonna hang with something like Inside, but there's no doubt this would've got an X rating back in the heyday of slasher cinema. Not that Among Friends is really a slasher, which means I still have work to do to catch on the subgenre, it's more of a psychological thriller. It isn't taut enough to be a truly disturbing thriller, but it will make the more squeamish squirm, and should engage fans of low budget horror.
The acting levels vary in quality, with some of the performances being pretty good and some of the lesser ones contributing to the aforementioned lack of tautness. The film's screenwriter, Alyssa Lobit, plays the movie's villain, and she's okay, but doesn't really come across as unhinged. Given the film's heavy handed social commentary on friendship and values, rather than demented the baddie comes across as whinging about society. I'm sure the idea was to highlight issues that Lobit has with human behaviour, but the movie's not realistic enough to effectively convey her messages, which makes the movie feel preachy when she bluntly vocalises her points. The overbearing messaging prevents the viewer from becoming reflective, so I can't imagine Among Friends will make people rethink how they treat their peers, but it might make them think twice about befriending psychologists.
While that one element didn't work so well, overall Among Friends is a fast paced film that offers up some twisted surprises. The movie tries to emulate the films of cinema's greatest decade, and wisely avoids the pitfall of being too self-aware. It's not really a throwback in that the movie is set in modern time, it's more of an homage where the 80s elements are worked into the story and then carry over into the film's tone and feel.
Among Friends has some funny moments, some wince moments, and some cameos from people like Kane Hodder, Michael Biehn, and Harris herself. Fans of 80s horror should take a look, and I assume that's pretty much everyone because who doesn't love 80s horror?