Years from now, when a film historian looks back at what was scaring audiences in the horror genre in the 2020s, they’ll notice a lot of cultural tensions around social media. Over the last few years, the horror genre has taken some big swings at the ‘click like and subscribe’ mentality. Unfortunately, the track record for these movies ranges from effectively scathing (Deadstream, Sissy, Tragedy Girls) to middling (The Seed) to the dreadful (Dashcam, Deadcon, Friend Request). Though British found-footage horror Followers saw a limited theatrical release last year, it’s just arrived on VOD platforms. Only a handful of critics have chimed in with thoughts but they’re liking the mix of horror and comedy.
After a disgraceful rant on a reality television show, Jonty, a self-professed influencer, loses most of his followers. But when Jonty arrives at college he hopes he can ‘re-brand’ himself and restore his social media presence. After meeting his new flatmates, Jonty gets some unexpected help – a potential ghost lurking in the old student housing building. As Jonty and his new friends exploit the haunting, they reap the benefits of a rapidly growing fanbase. However, the growing number of followers may come with a steep price.
Followers Does a Decent Job Recycling Familiar Horror Conventions in First Half
Writer and director Marcus Harben is the latest filmmaker to exploit content creator technology to reinvigorate the found-footage subgenre. For the most part, the conceit works particularly in regards to the the common found-footage problem – explaining why someone would continue filing amidst life-threatening chaos. When your central characters are social media influencers, the plot hole largely evaporates. As a straight-up found-footage horror movie, Followers plays out expectedly while still being quite effective. Harben borrows familiar tropes – creepy images popping up on phone and computer screens, jarring sounds – and makes them work even if they don’t feel fresh.
As a straight-up found-footage horror movie, Followers plays out expectedly while still being quite effective.
Of course, Harben’s quick pacing helps the handful of shocks land more effectively. And the writer-director builds in a bit of mystery about whether the haunting is real that should keep viewers hooked. In fact, Followers includes a few decent jumps and ‘WTF’ moments in its first half that make it worth a watch. While it’s advertised as a horror-comedy, Harben’s more comfortable with the horror elements. Most of the the humor simply emerges from the exaggerated (or not so exaggerated) mannerisms of Jonty and influencer culture. Not much about the intended social commentary really sticks the landing.
Followers Almost Cancels Itself In Its Final Act
In spite of promising first half, Followers fumbles the premise in its third and final act. Once Harben shows more of his ghost the horror-comedy feels more silly than scary or creepy. A Halloween party rave haunting feels a bit too much – it doesn’t check off the horror or comedy elements. And Harben stuffs in a bit too much into his finale with a couple of twists that don’t add much to the movie. Though these surprises don’t undo any goodwill from the first half, Followers can’t help but feel a bit tedious and underwhelming.
…Followers suffers from a lack of identifiable characters.
As is often the case with found-footage horror, Followers suffers from a lack of identifiable characters. While Harben intends to skewer influencer culture this means that Jonty, well-played by Harry Jarvis, isn’t a particularly likable character. In fact, Jonty’s persistent self-centeredness makes him difficult to root for as a protagonist. Aside from Loreece Harrison’s (Black Mirror) ‘Zauana’, the central cast doesn’t offer much in the way of relatability. There’s Erin Austen’s insecure ‘Amber’ and Daniel Cahill’s (Anna and the Apocalypse) Scottish tough guy ‘Pete’ who have thin arcs. Even Nina Wadia’s eccentric school counselor, looking to peddle her self-help book, grates quickly on the nerves. By design, Followers fills its cast with off-putting personalities.
Followers Doesn’t Re-Invent the Wheel, But It’s Watchable Found-Footage Horror
Though it works in bits and pieces, particularly in the first half, Followers can’t quite nail its premise. Quite a few of the scary bits land in the first hour even if they sometimes feel familiar. And Harben’s poking fun at influencers and social media culture mostly feels spot on. But the final act veers out of control with one too many surprises. As the plot thickens, so to speak, Harben loses control of the narrative. There’s still an interesting and occasionally scary found-footage horror movie here. Ultimately, however, Followers falls short of bringing the horror and dark comedy into a satisfying resolution.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B-