An uneven blend of social media, found footage, and peer pressure, but somehow there are some effective chills amongst the shallow plot.
During the summer of the pandemic, Followed was fortunate enough to briefly get a number one spot in the theatrical box office. I bet the lead in the film, Mike (Matthew Solomon), a.k.a. “DropTheMike”, wishes he were that popular.
Mike is a vlogger who posts about spooks and killings, as though they are as entertaining as he feels his online presence is. He has a loyal crew that helps with filming and editing, but needs to get more followers in order to claim a sponsorship deal he’s been offered. So he asks his “minions” where he should take his channel for Halloween. The answer: the Lennox hotel, allegedly where (fictitious) David Olmos lured prostitutes to their deaths, and where a young woman was more recently found dead.
Followed is about this Halloween trip and its filming. It’s kind of found footage, but more like found-and-then-assembled-footage, with a soundtrack and social media snippets added in. Those added aspects suit the tech-hip branding of the vlogger and his channel, but don’t quite fit with the idea of found footage (where was it found and who by?) all by themselves. Making it a film-within-a-film, like They’re Outside, might have been a little more successful.
“DropTheMike” is an annoying character; are all online presenters like that? He is at first, anyway, but as the film progresses, he does become endearing to a degree: it becomes apparent that he cannot help presenting himself as a caricature, because he is self-centered and shallow, and actually realizes that about himself. Kudos. His online show also takes advantage of an unusual personality trait, that he is desensitized (as he explains to one of his colleagues) to horrible images and stories. He’s trying to find something which really touches a nerve; but at the same time, he does push rather too hard on his team, especially a couple…
Christopher (Tim Drier) is Mike’s usual cameraman, the Lennox’s reputation makes him nervous about this particular project. Mike relies on Nic (Caitlin Grace) to edit his show, which she spends all night doing, in order that it can go live as soon as possible. These two stand out from the crowd, as characters and actors: their interaction with Mike and their individual moments of terror add some real humanity to Followed.
Actually, Mike himself is most interesting when he is on his own, which happens more in the latter parts of the film when his friends have had enough of the creepy location, as well as Mike’s shenanigans. The scene in the elevator is genuinely tense, not least because I’m aware it’s based on an actual Korean/Japanese “game”, and that a young woman who was found dead in the Los Angeles Cecil Hotel appeared to have carried out the same ritual. The shocks and scares in this little horror are utterly shallow, but these elements which have roots in the real world certainly help to bed in a sinister atmosphere.
The quality of the production and the location certainly compensate for the writing. I mean even though it’s not proper found footage (we’re watching the cameraman for a lot of it, so someone else must be filming), the shaky camera makes it feel like found footage a lot of the time. Half-seen shadows and ghosts look authentic, not like camera tricks, and the roof, basement, corridors, and whole hotel feel suitably lived in and grimy.
The camera work, Antoine Le’s direction, the carefully applied soundtrack all combine to make something effective out of basically very little. I looked back on the film after watching it, knowing that there was nothing new and very little scary as such, and surprised at how engaged I was nearly all the way through. Somehow, it works, despite the flaws and nonsense. Just don’t ask me to explain the mannequins.