When it comes to the genres of romance and horror, they work because they tap into some of the more elemental forms of human emotion. One never gets tired of love, and in an ever-expanding world, there is always a new horror on the horizon. So yes, we have reason to believe that these genres will remain evergreen. However, the problem is that despite the continued relevance of these emotions, they are getting lost due to a lack of evolved storytelling. Romance is still stuck in the tropes and characters of the old instead of keeping up with new-age sensibilities, and the horror genre has either resorted to mindless jump scares or abstract storytelling that irritates more than engages the viewer. That is exactly what happens with “The Friendship Game.” Anyone who has seen the movie can tell right away that the story arc of Cotton is incomprehensible. And what was the purpose of Kyle? We will try our best to analyze these questions through the narrative of “The Friendship Game.”
The Game of Friendship
This very unenviable story starts with Cotton and Susan, aka Zooza, at a yard sale, where they come across a woman selling a strange artifact. She calls it the “Friendship Game’, something you play with your true friends, and if your friendships remain intact after the game, it means that you have won it. Cotton buys it, and the four friends—her, Susan, Courtney, and Robbie—decide to play it.
From here on, the movie breaks into three timelines. One is in that room, one is a party the friends attend, and the third is the event after. Unknown to the four of them, a kid by the name of Kyle is spying on them using the webcam in Cotton’s room, and he is recording everything that happens there. Cotton’s deepest, darkest desire is that she doesn’t want to face reality, that she not deals with the inevitable of everyone going their separate ways, of growing up and moving on in their lives. Susan’s wish is that she does not want to care when they all move ahead in their lives after the summer. Courtney wants to get into the university of her choice, and Robbie just wants to be good at sex. The next thing we know, Cotton is at a party, looking scared and asking Court about Susan and Robbie. She finds them with each other and leaves crying. In her car, she encounters another version of herself that ends up killing her. But nobody knows what has happened, and people assume that she has gone missing.
At the party that day, before Susan and Robbie get together, they have a brief talk about infinite timelines and universes, in the middle of which we come to know that they had kissed before, indicating that there was some latent tension there. When they are together, the protection used by Robbie breaks, and Susan rushes to the bathroom. In the mirror, she sees Cotton’s room instead of her own reflection and ends up fainting. Later, the three friends are putting up posters across the town about Cotton missing. Kyle, on the other hand, looks at the posters creepily as though he knows something.
After a brief interrogation by a police inspector, Susan hallucinates about an injury on her stomach, which indicates that there might be disastrous consequences to the time spent together by her and Robbie. Court has received her acceptance letter from her university. Robbie is generally confused about everything, and he steals the friendship game artifact from Cotton’s room, which is recorded by Kyle. In the recording, he also spots Cotton, and it is clear to the boy that it is far from a glitch. All of the friends have seen an apparition of Cotton asking them whether their friendship has survived. In the meantime, we also come to know that Susan has some issues, and she is confused between blaming herself and her mother for her father leaving them many years ago.
That night, she agrees to babysit Kyle. Her friends come to visit her at the house, and they tell her that the friendship game is coming true. Deciding to take a chance, they play another round where they demand to know what has happened to Cotton. Kyle airdrops footage of them playing the game in Cotton’s room, revealing that he has been watching them all along. The friends decide to find out more, and Susan distracts him with a movie while Robbie snoops around his computer. He finds videos of him being with Cotton, memories that he does not have. This makes us think back to his wish and the talk he had with Susan about infinite timelines. Has Kyle tapped into the multiverse from which he is getting this footage? Is that what the device is—something that enables the transference of experience and skills between people through their varied experiences in different timelines? We would think yes because there is no other explanation for it. It might also be true because Court and Susan had a talk in which they understood that Robbie had the exact same discussion with both of them. We are not contesting the recycling of lines and charm during courtship with different people, but when did Robbie get the time? It must be the multiple timelines thing.
‘The Friendship Game’ Ending Explained: Do The Friends Survive The Friendship Test?
The reality for the friends becomes increasingly distorted, with each of them coming to know a different version of Cotton’s death: Court thinks she overdosed on pills, Robbie believes that he stabbed her, and Susan has been transported back to the night of the party. Cotton had confronted her about being with Robbie and attacked her, saying that nobody liked her and that her father leaving was her fault. Susan had pushed her, and that had caused Cotton’s death. We do not believe that it is a real memory. It is just one of the ways in which the game manipulates them. Because if Cotton did actually say those hurtful words to Susan, she would not care about her leaving, much like her first wish. Robbie’s having slept with both Court and Susan was bait for her to hate both of her friends, one that Susan did not take. And the only way for Cotton to not move further into the coming reality was by her death, another twisted way of her wish getting fulfilled.
The game tells them that they have all failed the test, but Susan turns it around by saying that she still cares for her friends. Cotton says that she feels let down by her, but Susan reiterates that she has never stopped loving Cotton. With that, considering their friendship remains, the game resets back to the day of the yard sale. The old woman once again asks Cotton whether she would like to buy the artifact, but Susan replies that their relationship does not need testing. Later, she says that the only thing she wants is this time with her friends. The old woman looks on as she meets her next customer, another group of friends curious about the friendship game. We believe she made the sale to them for $10.
Final Thoughts: What Doesn’t Work For ‘The Friendship Game’?
There are so many plot holes in “The Friendship Game.” We were never given an explanation as to why Cotton arrived at the party looking so scared. And despite our theory about transference through multiple timelines, we must admit that it stands on shaky ground. That theory needed an “Oculus” type of treatment, but that was not delivered. The result is a movie that is just haphazard and hard to understand. Also, in most movies of this genre, real horror stems from the conflict of human emotions and how far people will go to get what they want. When “The Friendship Game” started, we were expecting an exploration of that. After all, no friendship is completely innocent, especially teen ones. There are insecurities, resentments, untold desires, and a lot more. Absolutely none of these were explored. We also feel a little tired of commenting on the lack of understanding of teenagers exhibited by the writers. It is almost as if a template exists for characters of that age group and deviating from that to write something real is a cardinal sin. Cotton did not lie when she said that Susan was unlikeable. And her conversation with her mother was just hard to sit through for the cringe it induced. Also, what was Robbie’s deal? A character as useless as they come. We also never came to know the adverse effects of the Court’s wish being granted. Our friends are going to hate us if we recommend this movie to them. Give it a pass, please. It is really not worth the one-and-a-half hours of screen time.
“The Friendship Game” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by Scooter Corkle.