Frightfest and Screenbound Entertainment Present Followers, in cinemas March 18th 2022.
Occasionally our film reviews are laced with a sense of sadness, which is very much the case with Followers. Sadly, the film’s premiere at this year’s Frightfest is missing its director Marcus Harben, who passed away before its release. But, what Harben has left us with is nothing short of brilliant, his mash-up of screen-time and found-footage horror, embedded in a classic ghost story that writhes with delicious twists and turns and a bonkers but brilliant finale. The result is an energetic, darkly humorous, creative and cracking social media-inspired supernatural horror. Harben proves that good supernatural horror comes from the idea at its heart and the shadows it paints, not the expensive or over the top CGI used. But more than that, he injects his film with a fresh and intimate vibe so often lacking in the overworked screen-time and found-footage sub-genre.
Jonty (Harry Jarvis) prides himself on his extensive online following, his blogs and viral videos, the stuff of legend in his local town. However, Jonty’s drive for success online has not come without its problems, with a recent blog post highlighting some of Jonty’s less than favourable drunken antics. But, we all deserve a second chance. And as Jonty embarks on his new life at University, second chances are very much on his mind. But as Jonty’s university life begins, his thoughts remain embedded in his online career and a mission to use his university life to build his followers further.
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As Jonty arrives at his University digs, he meets his new housemates; aspiring documentary filmmaker Zauna (Loreece Harrison), the delicate social media-obsessed Amber (Erin Austen) and the fiery mature student Pete (Daniel Cahill). But as the group settle into their new pad, strange events begin to take hold, and it slowly becomes apparent they are not alone. For Jonty, the supernatural events offer an online opportunity for his popular blog. While for Zauna, it provides a chance to break into documentary filmmaking. But do any of them understand the power of the supernatural forces at play? As their videos go viral, the university counsellor Becky Dubar (Nina Wadia) tries to stop the group from pushing their luck. But, as the likes and shares increase, even Becky finds herself caught in the online popularity trap.
The resulting story is fast-paced, brilliantly performed and engaging; the scares beautifully timed, the humour cutting, and the social discussions well-formed. Followers has no intention of making us wait for the action, diving straight into the supernatural story at its heart without any extensive build-up. Of course, this comes with the risk of creating initial energy that quickly falls flat. But, here, Harben keeps the pace lively with a classic narrative arc that sees the group form, only to fall apart before rejoining for a mind-bending finale.
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However, the true genius of Harben’s pacing sits within the use of social media comments, clicks and views. Here, influences provide short video views and opinions on Jonty’s ongoing blog, cutting through the onscreen action with thoughts on the events occurring. This only acts to keep the pace and energy high, even when the narrative takes a well-deserved breath. But when this is coupled with a filming technique that sees the actors become the crew, Followers finds its unique voice. For example, over 50% of the film was shot by Loreece Harrison (Zauna).
The result is an intimate theatrical space where the audience feels a part of the student group—reflecting the power of social media in driving likes, shares and addictive patterns of viewing as we welcome influencers into our own home. Here, you are not passively watching the students but a part of their journey. Of course, this would not find success without the performances at the heart of Followers—the small, tight-knit cast driving a feeling of connection and realism that permeates the film’s narrative. It is clear throughout that the cast lived together during filming, with each scene rooted in natural and unforced connectivity.
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Followers never attempts to lampoon or dismiss the rise of the social media influencer. Instead, it chooses to ask us one pertinent question, where lies the boundary between personal and public life in our modern-day world of viral videos? Here, it’s Jonty who embodies the addiction inherent in social media-driven life. His choices, decisions and desires controlled by an unquenchable need to build followers, likes and shares. Each video he posts, an instant hit of Oxytocin that quickly fades only to demand more. Here the boundaries between his online and offline life slowly fade as he strives to keep an instant and fleeting success.
While its finale may feel slightly bonkers, Followers is consistently brilliant; it doesn’t need an extensive budget or lavish CGI to make its mark. Instead, it bathes in the classic power of storytelling and performance, adding in some truly genius twists and turns along the way. At times scary, while humorous and always engaging, Harben’s movie is an absolute joy. And while he may never have got to see its Frightfest premiere, I have no doubt his creative slice of horror will find more than a few festival fans. However, I only hope this treasure also receives the broader release it so duly deserves.
While its finale may feel slightly bonkers, Followers is consistently brilliant; it doesn’t need an extensive budget or lavish CGI to make its mark. Instead, it bathes in the classic power of storytelling and performance, adding in some truly genius twists and turns along the way.