Danielle Harris is hands down my favorite new-age Scream Queen, which I’ve written about over and over again, so you can bet I’ve been hotly anticipating her directorial debut Among Friends. Stepping away from the spotlight and going behind the camera, Harris puts to action a script by star Alyssa Lobit focusing on the dirty little secrets we hide from those we love. Sure, it’s not a new idea by any means, but I so hoped astute genre knowledge from Harris could create some killer friendship horror. Unfortunately, Lobit’s screenplay is more concerned about purporting bitchy stereotypes of shitty people, as the horror and gore gets lost amidst a film that wants to be entirely more fun than it permits. Being transported back to the 80s for a murder mystery party may sound like a totally rad experience, but without substance and atmospheric tension, our faux-party is nothing but a silly charade.
Assembling for what everyone thinks is a murder mystery party, a group of friends get decked out for some 80s themed fun and a night of excitement (featuring the likes of AJ Bowen and Jennifer Blanc). As the night wears on though, the guests find themselves poisoned and paralyzed, glued to their dinner table seats, and the night takes a turn for the worst. One of the guests reveals themselves to have orchestrated the party so she can expose the friends for who they really are, drawing out deep, dark secrets no one can believe. As tensions rise and people are betrayed, staying alive becomes harder, as lives begin to be threatened. Ruining friendships is the last thing on our group’s mind, as they can only hope they leave the party alive.
Among Friends is a confusing watch because there’s undoubtable style and ambition, plus there’s an admirable strive to be different, but our characters are just a little too hate-filled and morally disgusting to really embrace this “dirty little secrets” thriller. We’re supposed to believe this group is the closest of friends, yet they’re running about cheating on each other, forcing themselves on one another, betraying one another left and right, and at a certain point the dialogue reverts to levels of catty high-school Barbie girls. Don’t get me wrong, Lobit plays around trust and friendship a ton in her script, but it becomes outlandish and cartoony until there’s not a decent person in the bunch, really.
Harris’ directorial influence is felt mightily in one trippy, weird, almost out of place, but strangely entertaining hallucination by one of our drug taking party guests, as she believes she’s on a movie set. This creates some hilarious cameos that true genre fans will respect like the insertion of director Xavier Gens, Harris herself dressed in her Halloween attire, Michael Biehn as himself, and not in that specific sequence, but since we’re on the topic, Kane Hodder shows up for a cameo of his own. This is where Harris shines, in pulling strings and bolstering weirder scenes with enough fun tidbits for hardcore genre fans, but Harris’ love for horror and respect for fans is apparent and appreciated. Getting Michael Biehn to act like a diva and yell about the state of his career is something not every director can make happen, but thankfully these moments add a special spice to Among Friends.
As far as acting though, typical standouts like AJ Bowen are restricted to a simple dining room table chair, and endure pain that apparently doesn’t last very long. There as some pretty wicked torture scenes here, but our characters recover quickly and painlessly, again removing audiences from a watchable realm. AJ Bowen specifically endures an unspeakable torment that will have male viewers cringing, but he stays perfectly conscious and talkative, when in all honesty, he should probably be dead. Fun, yes. Cinematically, though? It’s hard to stay engaged.
Among Friends is a movie made the same way, as Harris and company throw together the movie they want to see, but get a little caught up in the process. I absolutely wish I could have given Danielle Harris a giant gold star for her first directorial feature, but this party is an unfortunate dud. There’s no blame to really point, and Harris does show positive moments as a director (and I hope she’ll continue chasing her behind-the-camera dreams), but with a script that becomes simply too audacious without the proper atmosphere, hidden twists and turns fall flat.
Sorry Danielle, I’m still a huge fan, but Among Friends just isn’t for me.