By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Matthew Solomon, Tim Drier and Sam Valentine
Directed by Antoine Le
Written by Todd Klick
Global View Entertainment
FOLLOWED has been doing pretty decent business in its limited theatrical play the last week or so, ahead of wider VOD exposure later this summer. It’s encouraging to see it continuing the trend of successful pandemic-era big-screen horror bookings like THE WRETCHED and BECKY, even as its particular format makes it especially suited for small-screen home viewing.
Director Antoine Le here adopts the “Screenlife” format pioneered by Timur Bekmambetov with productions like UNFRIENDED and SEARCHING: We watch the activity on a computer desktop as files are opened, viewed, transferred, etc. The bulk of FOLLOWED is assembled footage that, we’re told, was anonymously posted on-line in 2016, and has only been visible on the dark web “Until now :)”. That emoticon in an onscreen title card hints at a satirical point of view on the material that only comes through sporadically, as most of FOLLOWED is yet another handheld jaunt into a haunted location that goes very badly for a small team of self-styled investigators.
This group is led by Mike (Matthew Solomon), a.k.a. “DropTheMike,” host of a webcast that investigates sites with deadly and/or supernatural histories. Seen early on in the movie taking a rather disrespectful attitude in his visit to the “Pasadena Suicide Bridge” (an actual place with a tragic past), Mike is, to put it mildly, a jackass. He’s loud, obnoxious, self-centered and self-serving, dismisses his followers as “sick bastards” as a deflection of criticism of his own trashy persona, and is the kind of person most viewers wouldn’t be able to stand for a 10-minute vlog, let alone a feature-length movie. Somehow, the desktop-storytelling approach of FOLLOWED allows just enough distance from this buffoon, along with moments making fun of his type of Internet “personality,” so that you can resist the urge to switch off. One can imagine at least some of Mike’s viewership logging on in hopes of seeing him get his much-deserved comeuppance, and that anticipation carries the film as well.
His destination for a three-night Halloween series that can score him a rich endorsement deal is the Hotel Lennox in downtown LA. The Lennox, the death of a girl captured on video within it and its past resident serial killer David “Night Crawler” Olmos were inspired by the city’s actual Hotel Cecil, where “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez once lived (though the movie wasn’t shot there). FOLLOWED also incorporates “the elevator game,” a real-life urban-legend ritual of stopping at different floors that allegedly gives you access to the spirit world, in its best and scariest sequence. There are also a lot of more prosaic sights captured by Mike and co.’s cameras, both in their rooms and the building’s less accessible areas: doors opening and closing by themselves, eerie figures in the background, grisly totems turning up, etc. Not that Mike actually believes in a supernatural explanation for any of this; he’s just exploiting it, which puts him at odds with his DP Christopher (Tim Drier), who’s been convinced of the existence of evil spirits ever since what he believes was a childhood encounter with one.
FOLLOWED is shot and assembled well, and there’s still, even after so many other movies like this, a built-in tension to the first-person immediacy of the presentation. The cast, also including Sam Valentine as enthusiastic sound recorder/2nd cameraperson Danni, Caitlin Grace as short-tempered editor Nic and John Savage as a briefly seen Hotel Lennox historian, performs convincingly. That all helps sustain suspense as the movie gets into its second half and the situation becomes genuinely threatening for the team, even as it does so in familiar ways. The extra edge clearly intended by Le and screenwriter Todd Klick is a commentary on the callousness endemic in the social-media scene, but it’s an easy point made in obvious ways. Mike is a giant jerk from the very beginning, and predictably shows some tinges of humanity and vulnerability only under the extreme pressure of the final act. As creepy as it can be in the moment, FOLLOWED might have had more dramatic resonance had Mike’s arc played the other way around.