Some say that found footage is a dead subgenre but movies like “Followed” make a good case that there are still plenty of scares to be found in this admittedly overdone approach to horror cinema. First revealed in 2018 at the Burbank International Film Festival, “Followed” got its wide release via streaming this September and was one of several horror movies on my must-watch list for October 2020. Using the found footage formula of capturing paranormal activity from a first person perspective and camera lens, the film follows a social media influencer and blogger who takes his obsession for followers to the next level by exploring the hauntings within a supposedly cursed hotel only to find that the legends of the building may be more true than he and his crew initially believe. While imperfect, “Followed” offers much more than a lot of recent found footage entries have dared to produce.
Directed by Antoine Le and written by Todd Klick, “Followed” chronicles the final vlogs of social media personality DropTheMike (Matthew Solomon) and his three crew members Wallace (John Savage), Danni (Sam Valentine) and Nic (Caitlin Grace) as they set up shop in the operating but allegedly haunted Hotel Lennox hoping that their paranormal investigation of the building will bring DropTheMike enough followers to secure a lucrative sponsorship. Soon the group discovers that the activity in the hotel is more than just a legend leading to some of the most effective found footage scares of the past half-decade. “Followed” sticks to convention in a lot of ways, making us wait for the frights and forming its own mythology along the way to add to its concept, but it succeeds in providing some genuine subtext specifically by challenging the modern obsession with social media stardom and the lengths people will go to reach fame and fortune on the internet and doesn’t skimp on or phone in the scares the way a lot of found footage experiences tend to do.
“Followed” was one of those rare films that for me was pretty uncomfortable to watch alone in the dark. I love found footage movies and a lot of them have proven to be effective, but it’s been difficult to find ones in more recent years that have me turning on lights afraid of what I’m seeing, or even not seeing on the screen. “Followed” turned out to be one of those movies frightening the hell out of me consistently. While the special effects left a lot to be desired and some of the scares were rather predictable, the atmosphere and execution made even the most mundane and cliché of frights feel effective and unique. The use of modern real-life paranormal inspirations like the infamous case of Elisa Lam provided an added grounding of potential realism to the scares making you question whether or not genuine paranormal incidents could happen in the real world and if so, would it really be wise to pursue them? In an age where ghost hunting TV shows and YouTube superstars are popular, these are daring questions that are nothing new for the genre but “Followed” manages to tackle them much better than its predecessors.
Sadly, the acting is about as good, or rather sub-par as you would expect from a found footage film. While the actors aren’t horrible, like most movies in this subgenre the performances are a little flat as the actors try to present an aura of realism and sincerity in their frights resulting in them actually feeling like they’re overacting. Sadly the most genuinely convincing performer in the movie is Caitlin Grace who plays the group’s editor Nic, who remains isolated for most of the film until it is discovered she is experiencing mental stress and trauma from an unknown cause. She gets minimal screen time and isn’t even listed on many of the cast lists you find online for the film. So, it is kind of sad that the one gripping performance in the movie comes from an actress who is being ignored by the community and barely credited for the movie.
Another knock on the film is its twist and the resulting ending. I won’t spoil it here, at least not completely, but suffice it to say there’s a reason DropTheMike of all people is investigating this hotel. We discover personal details that add up to a completely out of nowhere piece of connecting tissue between the vlogger and the hotel that didn’t need to be included to add to the stakes. If anything it feels like a jump the shark moment where the filmmakers wanted to plant the roots for future movies more than make it count in this one. The final moments of the film also feel pretty forced although it does lead to a concluding video that ties into the movie’s theme of mocking millennials and social media obsessed Gen Z-ers and their need for attention and internet fame. The movie was doing great as a cautionary tale of the dangers of engaging in endeavors simply to gain internet fame and attention. It didn’t need the added mythology and twists to have significance and when it went off the rails and decided to go the clear franchise-building route that’s where it started to lose me creating a finale that fails to land an otherwise smooth flight.
Even in spite of the questionable ending “Followed” is a fun ride nonetheless. One of the better found footage movies to come around in the last five years, this is a truly uncomfortable and horrifying genre piece that did have me shaking in my boots much of the time and takes advantage of modern ideas and real world paranormal mysteries to add some fun social commentary and modern relatability for spice making it more than just the same old song and dance many found footage experiences tend to be these days. It’s a fun and spooky return to form for the subgenre that could promise even creepier things on the horizon.