Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – Followers (2021)

My notes on Followers

The found footage horror film just about predates the rise of the social media influencer, though there were plenty of video diarists around before The Blair Witch Project latched on to the look and style of some of their efforts.  In recent years, there has been an inevitable fusion of the forms, with paranormal infotainment thrown into the mix, and a whole run of horror movies have given influencers/vloggers/youtubers and the like a very hard time (a random selection includes Shook, Death of a Vlogger, Deadcon, and Follow Me).  This British entry in the cycle leans heavily into stereotype – vlogger Jonty (Harry Jarvis) is a posh boy who melted down on a reality show called Brats of Belgravia, and people keep passing comments in his hairdo, hat, privileged white obnoxiousness and desperate need for fame – but, frankly, so do most of the real-life inspirations for the character.

A frame story establishes that this is an assemblage of footage about how Jonty’s rise to fame went wrong, though writer-director Marcus Harben only sticks to the found footage format about 80% of the time.  When Jonty goes to uni, he moves into a shared house with videographer Zauna (Loreece Harrison), insta star Amber (Erin Austen) and resentful mature student drunk Pete (Daniel Cahill) and sets about reinventing himself as a paranormal expert because the house turns out to be haunted by the ghost of a ’90s girl who plays rave music from inside the walls and occasionally manifests on film.  A violent street person also hangs about, as does campus therapist Becky Dunbar (Nina Wadia), who has her envious eye on Jonty’s follower count as well as a professional interest in the troubles of the gang … who, of course, never seem to go to lectures, meet tutors, do course-work or read books since they’re all on their screens all the time.

Dawn (Jessica Webber), the ghost, is clearly dangerous, but Jonty needs her around – though the film is quite canny in distributing suspicious behaviour around the characters.  Zauna, black and from a non-privileged background, admits that she’s going along with Jonty’s project purely to get a chance to tell her own stories: in a horribly believable but nicely understated bit, she has a brief exchange with a useless posh girl on the crew of a TV paranormal show that visits the house asking how she got her job and is told that mummy and daddy knew someone and made a call.  Even cynical Pete is willing to perform for the cameras, and the older, presumably more caring Becky is as exploitative of those in her charge as Jonty is of his housemates.  In an on-the-nose line, he’s diagnosed as not needing friends because he has followers.

This is as much a mystery as a spook story – it has a couple of creepy moments and scares, but the plot turns out to be more complex than usual, leading to a finale with revelations and stand-offs and perhaps one twist too many.  Few films have solved the problem of making us really care about imperilled influencers – the cutaways to followers quite rightly show that many hatewatch Jonty and hope to see him suffer – and this doesn’t really try to suggest that the protagonist has an inner pain worth exploring.

Here’s the FrightFest listing.


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