Lionsgate // 2013 // 80 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Alice Nelson // September 13th, 2013
With friends like these, maybe having friends is just not your thing.
A few months ago, I watched The Last Boy Scout; it had been years since I'd seen it, and let me tell you it did not age well. In it, Danielle Harris plays the foul mouthed daughter of Bruce Willis. I didn't think her performance was that memorable (this could be because the film itself was so forgettable), but now little Danielle is all 'growed' up and directing movies of her own. Among Friends is her feature length directorial debut, and this promising little film delivers a delightfully strange tale about the consequences of the actions of a group of six friends and the judgment passed down upon them.
Six longtime friends attend an '80s themed party at the house of a new addition to the group named Bernadette (Alyssa Lobit). Once there however, they realize that this is not going to be the throwback blast they had hoped for, as each one comes face to face with some of their most scandalous deeds, and are forced to pay a dear price.
Often we're afraid to call people on their poor behavior, for fear of being labeled "judgmental." The 'hey what I do isn't hurtin anyone' crowd doesn't seem to see that our actions can frequently bleed over into the lives of others, even if we don't intend them to. Among Friends is part black comedy and part horror movie that not only judges the behavior of six friends, but punishes them as well.
Among Friends stars Alyssa Lobit, who is also the film's writer. Lobit plays Bernadette, a woman who throws what appears to be a party for a few of her most shallow of friends. Yay! Not so fast; at this party the guests are given a powerful drug that paralyzes them, then they're forced to play a twisted game where each one must view video that was secretly taped by their hostess, showing them doing unspeakable things that the other friends knew nothing about. Then the friends get to choose what consequences Miss Bernadette will dish it out for their infractions. Roll the tape! First we see a video of Melanie (Jennifer Blanc) sleeping with Blane (Chris Meyer), her best friend Sara's (Kamala Jones) boyfriend. Next Marcus (Christopher Backus) pleasures himself while secretly watching Jules (Brianne Davis, Jarhead) during a sexual encounter. Adam (AJ Bowen) engages in something that is absolutely deplorable. Yet in an act almost as heinous, his sister Jules stumbles on her brother during this encounter but does nothing to stop him.
What's interesting about Among Friends is it isn't a revenge horror flick where someone is done wrong, then years later they enact a vengeful slaughter on all those responsible. Bernadette hasn't been directly hurt by any of their actions, and the betrayal of each of the friends never would've been discovered if she hadn't made these acts known. The film makes the point that there are consequences to all behavior, even if the people we're hurting aren't aware they're being hurt. Though Bernadette is demented, she is willing to bring to light her friend's conduct, it's just too bad she didn't decide to sit down and have a heart to heart with them instead -- but what kind of horror movie would that be?
The cast is very good, especially Lobit as Bernadette, a woman who is both unpredictable and delightfully deranged. Danielle Harris' directing is tight and creative, especially in what could've been a very gruesome scene, one where Bernadette uses castration as a form of punishment -- ouch! Harris could've easily given us a grotesque SAW-like moment, instead we see things through the eyes of Jules, who is trippin' off some mushrooms she took in the limo ride over. This gives the whole scene a surreal quality that lessens the horror of what is actually taking place -- well played, Danielle.
Among Friends is strange and unique, right down to a bizarre cameo by Michael Biehn (The Terminator), whose real life wife is Jennifer Blanc, the actress who plays Melanie.
This 1.78:1 widescreen presentation has a wonderfully clear and clean look. A lot of this film takes place at night, in the dark and disturbing home of our antagonist, and still each scene is easy to see. The Dolby 5.1 Surround track highlights dialogue that can be clearly heard over a wonderfully restrained soundtrack by Cody Westheimer. Lionsgate's release also offers up an enlightening commentary from director Danielle Harris, as well as a collection of trailers.
I do have one bone to pick with the filmmakers of Among Friends: they should've left well enough alone. After a very effective ending that had been decidedly unique, Harris tacks on a second ending; one that's not only unnecessary and predictable, but adds nothing to the story. A small error in judgment that still does not prevent me from recommending this indie delight.
Among Friends presents an unsettling scenario, but an intriguing one. In a day and age when any kind of criticism of someone's behavior is met with the typical cries of "don't judge me," this film not only judges the characters behavior, but doles out the punishment. I'm not sure if Lobit or Harris meant for it to be a social commentary, but it does show that there are consequences to one's behavior. Danielle Harris proves she has a unique filmmaker's voice that should not be ignored.
Among my friends, we say Not Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Rated R
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