Among Friends (2012)
Directed by Danielle Harris
Written by Alyssa Lobit
Starring Alyssa Lobit, Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, Kamala Jones, AJ Bowen, Brianne Davis, Christopher Backus, Dana Daurey, and Chris Meyer
In last year’s review of X-Game I mentioned the influence of the Saw franchise on modern vigilante horror. Five years ago, Danielle Harris’s Among Friends used the sub-genres conventions to point out how rape culture targets victims with continued societal disbelief and minimization. Spoilers, ahoy. There’s just no way to discuss this one without revealing plot points.
Bernadette (Alyssa Lobit) throws an 80s-themed mystery party for her friends. It’s the setup to an 80s-style slasher, but they’re not picked off one by one. Instead they’re slipped paralytic drugs and tied to their chairs around a dinner table. The party game is truth and consequences; each guest is allowed to ask Bernadette one question, and to earn the answer they must endure a torture agreed to by anyone else. For example Sara (Kamala Jones) is given a haircut, which involves Bernadette cutting off a lock of hair below the roots.
A few conditions ensure that this dangerous situation spirals rapidly out of control. The primary difficulty is that Bernadette is unstable. She changes the rules and makes up new ones whenever her control over her guests is threatened, and even then she violates them at will. Her claim is that she’s helping them by bringing everything into the open, which willfully ignores the increasingly vicious bodily harm she inflicts. Adding randomness to the proceedings, Jules (Brianne Davis) mixed mushroom and booze before the night took a sinister turn. She has no real idea what’s going on and responds to stimuli the others can’t see.
Superficially the actions for which Bernadette is punishing her friends are all sexual in nature. There’s a deeper thread, through, which has to do with betrayal of trust. Spying on others having sex, cheating with a mutual friend — these are more than mere sexual antics; they’re intimate violations. The group quickly stops working together as these revelations create rifts in their friendships. Then the bombshell drops.
All evening, the main questions have been the whereabouts and condition of Lily (Dana Daurey). It turns out that she’s curled up and bleeding in Bernadette’s bathtub after an abortion earlier in the day. The father?: Adam (AJ Bowen), who had raped her at an earlier party at Bernadette’s. Everyone is properly appalled, but they don’t get the severity of it. When half-dead Lily stumbles in, instead of rallying behind their potential savior they tell her that Adam’s not a bad guy. He just made a mistake. Everything that rape victims hear in defense of their attackers except for doubt that it happened; Adam’s sister Jules had heard Lily yelling at him to stop and done nothing to help.
Among Friends is a powerful movie. It’s assertion that people will stand up for a rapist even at their own peril doesn’t seem at all exaggerated given how many will vote for one. The issue is very real, and we need to continue talking about it until the default reaction is to defend the victim. For such a violent movie the gore is rather limited, which might cost it even more genre fans than its message does. But for my money it’s a terrific exploitation of conventions to draw attention to a deep-seated problem in our society.