Jonty (Harry Davis) is a young man of his time, living in the age of social media influencers.
Having ambitions to make it to the top with millions of followers and worldwide fame, he live vlogs his entire life. After some embarrassing failures, Jonty is on the bottom step of the stairway to fame and fortune. This all changes when he moves into student housing with 3 other people. Zauna (Loreece Harrison) is herself a documentarian seeking to expose the under-represented side of society many of us overlook. Amber (Erin Austen) is a ditzy teen looking for romance with some prior mental health issues. Finally, Pete (Daniel Cahill) is a ‘typically Scottish’ lone wolf who is quick to anger and just as quick to fight.
Things go viral quickly when strange music and sounds start emitting from the house. Investigating, the housemates quickly discover an unhinged squatter called Jim (Dominic Watters) in the basement. They kick him out but the noises continue and soon they discover that their home may very well be haunted. Aiming to capitalise on this, Jonty and Zauna each in their own way document the haunting to growing success online. Over 50 days, audience reception see-saws between scepticism and belief as the quartet investigate and discover the truth behind this paranormal encounter.
Followers is the debut and unfortunately sole feature film from writer/director Marcus Harben. A cross between Big Brother and Paranormal Activity, the film was finalised and released posthumously after his untimely passing from cancer. Taking aim at social media influencers, the film satirises just how far some people will go for internet celebrity.
The film unfortunately relies a little too much on familiar tropes of the found footage genre which grew stale over 10 years ago. Initially, I loved the idea of a mix between horror and comedy, and moments like Jonty posing for selfies mid-haunting work well. However, soon Harben drops any pretence of comedic satire, unironically using jump scares and creepy imagery in an attempt to draw us in.
Harben does recreate the ADHD frantic nature of TikTok and other short form videos with the film’s pacing and editing, sometimes to its favour in achieving authentically filmed scenes. While at other times, and to its detriment, it can get hard to follow exactly what we are watching.
Little time is given to set-up the characters or even the layout of the house itself before barrelling on. I appreciate how Followers avoids the slow opening act many found footage movies have. The problem is those slow openings serve a purpose: to establish the basic foundations of a story. Followers lacks this and so, it is hard to care about what is happening or even who it’s happening to.
However, some characters shine through, with Zauna being a clear stand out. Her obsession with how to best document this poltergeist explains the increased number of camera angles as the film goes on. This is hampered somewhat by random insert shots coming apparently from nowhere. But when Followers does work well, it’s one of the most realistically filmed found footage movies I’ve ever seen.
Clips of various influencers making their own reaction videos to Jonty’s spooky vlogs are also a nice touch with the number of extras growing along with Jonty’s own notoriety. The one downside is it’s clear each extra’s clips were filmed all in one go. Their clothing apparently never changing for a month and a half.
Another character I appreciated is Becky (Nina Wadia), a new age mental health councillor attending to several of the students. At first, her character is overbearing and Wadia’s acting seems quite forced. However, eventually she becomes entirely bonkers and is easily the most entertaining element of the entire film.
As a low budget found footage movie, Followers doesn’t exactly set the world on fire with anything new or terribly scary. The social media influencer angle is interesting; however, it is the film’s principle cast that do a commendable job providing realistic performances. If nothing else, Followers is a fun movie for fans of the genre and I’m sure that it is a fitting tribute to late filmmaker, Marcus Harben.
Followers will be released digitally from March 25th.