How many are enough? And at what cost? This first-time feature from the late UK writer/director Marcus Harben (Blood of Wynter) attempts to answer these questions and more. Shot in a found footage/vlog style, Followers explores the dark side of social media influencer culture and offers some scathing social commentary that’s about a subtle as a sledgehammer between the eyes.
The anti-hero at the center of these proceedings is Jonty Craig (Harry Jarvis, The Knight Before Christmas), a former reality show star whose hate filled, drunken rant leaves him scandalized and has him resetting his life at college (one with an unusually high suicide rate…). Dreams of social media stardom lead him to document his university life on “Jonty’s Journey” – his online vlog – and reveal him to be a narcissistic jerk, hell bent on stardom.
Willingly or not, his flatmates in a communal house are joining him on his journey: Zauna (Loreece Harrison, Black Mirror) – a serious videographer; Pete (Daniel Cahill, The Peripheral) – an “everyman” prone to angry outbursts and drinking; Amber (Erin Austen, The Athens) – the emotionally troubled hot girl; and her social worker/therapist Becky (Nina Wadia, East Enders). All are characters with enough depth to set them apart from most horror movie stereotypes, while still retaining that familiarity.
Things get off to a crisply paced start as the roomies get to know each other and each other’s unique quirks, in what could possibly be a slightly haunted house. Soon after an encounter with Jim, (Dom Watters) a creepy junkie squatting in an unused room, trust goes out the window as everyone is trying to cash in on their newfound celebrity, and the ghostly Dawn (Jessica Webber) may or may not be another one of Jonty’s pranks. The protagonists’ deteriorating relationships build into a fun, fast film featuring a really well executed shocker ending and some genuine scares.
Followers sets some pretty lofty goals for itself from the beginning, and more often than not achieves them. It features an unsympathetic look at both the endless quest for internet clout, and the lengths influencers will go to get it. In trying to reach his goal of one million followers, we see Jonty compromise his morals, his relationships, and his personal safety without much pause to think of the consequences. We also, with Zauna’s more reality-based edits of the same content, see that Jonty’s social media world is definitely not what it appears to be. Heavy stuff for an indie horror flick, but Followers handles it deftly, without falling into the trap of coming off as sanctimonious or preachy.
But, after all, this is a horror film, so what about the scares? While not relying too heavily on gore, Followers manages some truly frightening moments, a measure of suspense, and great atmosphere. Harben expertly utilizes what most indie directors would view as limitations, i.e.: limited sets, small cast, and marginal effects, combined with superior storytelling and writing to make those same limitations serve the story. And he gets the most out of an ensemble cast that features great performances by virtually everyone, with Erin Austen’s effort in particular standing out, as well as Nina Wadia’s gleefully unhinged portrayal of Becky.
While this type of approach to the found footage sub-genre is nothing new (think more Diary of the Dead than Blair Witch), Followers is a fun, fast-paced, suspenseful & creepy ride into the dark recesses of influencer culture, dripping with social commentary, satire, and twists.
Followers comes to digital and On Demand March 24, 2023.