Written and Directed by Marcus Harben
After being publicly disgraced and thrown off a reality TV programme, rich boy influencer Jonty decides to enroll in further education and signs up to university. However, studying seems the last thing on his mind as his full attention is focused on growing his online followers by recording the antics he gets up to along with the three strangers he finds himself sharing his student accommodation with: aspiring documentary maker, Zauna; Insta-obsessed, spoilt but troubled Amber; and mature, drink-dependent student, Pete. His plans to publish videos about their drunken, crazy capers is turned upside down when they appear to capture ghostly activity on camera. With his social media following increasing, the demand to capture more and more footage of the supernatural instances intensifies, as does the risk involved. Will Jonty be able to resist taking things to the next level to gain more followers at the expense of the safety of his newfound friends?
Horror comedy FOLLOWERS takes the found-footage style of self-recording to create a film for the social media-obsessed age with a supernatural twist.
If you have any clue about social media and the mechanics of youtubers and influencers alike then you’ll understand that in this industry, salacious or outrageous actions are usually what captivates audiences, bumps up subscriber and follower numbers, and makes these individuals ‘famous’ – you only have to look where the Paul brothers and others alike have got purely from posting nonsense pranks on the web, lapped up by their adolescent fanbases. FOLLOWERS version is Jonty – the over-enthusiastic teen with his cap perched skew-whiff on his head, trying to get his newfound house mates in on the action.
The housemates never really evolve as characters, perhaps purposefully, reflecting the idea that social media interest is all about Jonty, and instead become stereotypes. Pete is portrayed as an angry, drunk Scot; Amber’s got daddy issues and likes to flash her wares, and then Jonty is just all about me, me, me, in order to get the views up. There’s only Zauna who feels genuine, but she struggles to be heard. Unfortunately, none of the characters have any real depth to them, which makes it hard to actually give a damn, and the moments the plot tries to include some sort of backstory, such as Pete with the loss of his mother and Zauna with her sick gran, it feels rushed and empty. They’re the forgotten people in the story, one that has these strangers instantly becoming best buddies at the drop of a hat with no real friendship development. Then there’s Becky, a middle-aged support worker who is there to help the students, Amber in particular, but who also has her own Youtube channel in which she preaches about spirituality. As she sees Jonty’s rise as an influencer, with the housemates’ ghostly videos ramping up the views, she tries to get in on the act, hoping to maybe get some eyes on her channel too but the students are far too aware that she risks to benefit more than they will and that she’s simply only showing interest in them for her own personal gain.
When the spooky stuff starts to happen, it’s purely laughable. Rave music coming from the walls, sounding like it’s coming from the next room; spectres in the computer; weird images captured on camera. All are pretty tame but enough to secure the interested of famed ghost hunter Edward Lee, who’s just as much of a shyster as the next. Throw in the homeless guy living in the basement and all’s left is weak tropes that fail to raise a gasp or a giggle.
FOLLOWERS is supposed to be a satire but I struggled to find any clever comment or approach from the film. Instead, it felt like a genuine attempt at making a horror movie, using the modern appeal of influencers to fuel it. Perhaps it’s because I can’t wrap my head around the logic of filming oneself everyday and doing boring, day-to-day stuff in front of the camera and thinking the whole world has an interest in my private life. It’s incredibly narcissistic and makes my skin crawl, but here we have, in this film, other random people doing ‘reaction’ videos to everything Jonty uploads to Youtube and, to be honest, it makes me cringe. I know random people taking an interest and thinking other people are eager to know their reaction to some stranger on the internet in the form of reaction videos is something that exists but I just don’t understand it and I don’t particularly want to either. Whilst it feels as though the film hams up this aspect somewhat, with the characters and tropes, it just feels painfully put together and the twist of the film you can see coming from the start.
No matter my thoughts on the film, it’s a shame that writer and director Marcus Harben never got to see his debut film be released, having sadly passed away after post-production had ended. Filmmakers put a lot of time and effort into creating something, even if it’s not to everyone’s taste. A small gift is that part of him can live on in this work he so lovingly created.