Matthew Solomon as DropTheMike
John Savage as Wallace Fleischer
Sam Valentine as Danni
Tim Drier as Chris
Kelsey Griswold as Jess
Christopher Martin as Security Guard
Directed by Antoine Le; Written by Todd Klick
It’s been a few years since the found-footage horror genre last saw a quality effort in Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch rebootquel, with the whole subgenre effectively being replaced by the Screenlife format the Unfriended franchise made popular. This new genre is still a thrill and had yet to find a way to merge the two formats until now with Antoine Le’s Followed, which proves to be a thrilling and chilling, if a bit familiar, affair with some decent social commentary.
When aspiring social media influencer “DropTheMike” is offered a lucrative sponsorship to grow his channel, he’s joined by his video crew on a visit to one of the most haunted hotels in America, where he’ll give his audience a horrific night of thrill-seeking the likes of which they have never seen before. What begins as a fun investigative challenge including the infamous Elevator Ritual quickly descends into a personal hell of true evil, begging the timely question: how far would you go to pursue internet fame?
The concept of a group of fame-hungry young adults with cameras entering a truly haunted area is certainly nothing new, going all the way back to the first Blair Witch film and even being revitalized briefly with the expert Grave Encounters, a spoof on a number of ghost-hunting reality series on the air at the time of the film’s release, but much like the Vicious Brothers’ haunting effort, Followed finds a media craze and targets it mostly effectively: social media influencers.
Nowadays, too many people are willing to throw their lives on the line and their morals to the wind in an effort to go viral on social media platforms and they’ve been targeted for critique in numerous films and series over the years, but there’s something about this film’s attempts that feels a little more authentic than past efforts. From the story’s stylings as daily vlogs in DropTheMike’s investigation full of kitschy on-screen graphics and editing to the characters’ avoidance of crystal-clear warnings from informed people, this feels more elevated than a typical “teens don’t listen to scary story” because this is something we see all the time on the internet, namely with certain Swedish and American YouTubers who will do anything to appease their fans, even if it infuriates the rest of the world.
That being said, this nice bit of social commentary is unfortunately where most of its story’s originality points come to a halt, as the rest of the film’s proceedings feel all-too-familiar to the films mentioned in previous paragraphs and also becomes a bit too convoluted by the final moments of the film. Recreating rituals despite being advised against doing so and blindly following the group leader until tragedy strikes, the film follows its haunted house investigation formula to the tee that results in plenty of fun scares but does result in feelings of predictability.
The scares themselves are mostly effective, expertly utilizing the handheld cameras and computer screens to help build the tension in every scene while also leaving enough of the sights themselves to the audiences’ imaginations to create as much of a psychological terror as a jump scare-fest. Many of the visuals, both practical and computer-generated, prove to be rather chilling and a nice homage to classics of horror past, including the demonic head shake made famous by Jacob’s Ladder, which arrives in one of the most unsettling moments in the film.
The performances in the film are relatively strong and believable that helps keep the film feeling grounded, namely Matthew Solomon as DropTheMike. Every leader of a group of paranormal investigators has to have a good balance of likability and nastiness for the audience to want to root against them, and though he leans more into the latter than the former, Solomon brings his vlogger to life in solid fashion that makes him a compelling enough lead to help drive the story.
Followed may not be the most original affair in its respective genres, and it may be a little surface level with its exploration of the homelessness issues in Los Angeles, but thanks to a unique blend of the Screenlife and found footage formats, a nice critique of the dangers of social media and some effective scares, it proves to be a plenty fun outing.