Directed by Sylvia Caminer
So, the internet can be a bad thing huh? By now, you probably think you’ve seen enough social media horror. Both online anonymity and its opposite, the desire for fame, have inspired numerous cautionary tales – some of have been remarkable (We’re All Going To The World’s Fair, Host, Cam), though probably more have been unremarkable. So initially, I wasn’t too buzzed about Sylvia Caminer’s feature debut, which on face value, is about the lengths people go to get followers. However, thankfully there’s a lot more to it than just another movie about hubris.
Jess (Barker) is an aspiring actor and screenwriter who currently videos her life on a social media platform called The Hive. However, for her a typical post isn’t pics of her food but sexual encounters with men she degrades for money – posting the videos a public service to protect people. It’s a popular channel, and if she can break into the top ten she can finally start monetising the hell out of it. And with her dad wanting to shift her apartment, she better be able to do it soon. Thankfully a classified comes up offering her a load of money to help write a ‘Hitchcockian’ thriller with an aspiring writer named Tom (Cook), who lives in an old barn in the arse end of nowhere. The weird bit is he wants to do it by living it – making her his main character as she lives out the movie in real-time.
There’s a lot of this film I really liked. Unlike some movies mentioned above, the social media angle is secondary. Sure, it gives her a living and motivation to go ahead with this – since Tom can be another oddball she streams. Yet at its core is an old-fashioned, intriguing cat and mouse situation where we don’t know which character is which animal. The power dynamics regularly shift, and it achieves a lot of tension with a small cast. Barker and Cook have undeniable chemistry, even if their sexual tension was a bit forced, and as the improvised mayhem unfolds, they bounce off each other with nuance. Of course, it helps that both their parts are rich, challenging roles to get their teeth into.
From the beginning, which has a neat twist on torture sequences, Follow Her is about messing with audience expectations and identification. Jess is an engaging protagonist: morally grey, since she films people without permission and keeps a video of a client up while his face is visible, but also a grafter. She’s unashamed to be her worst self in a world known for facades and surface-level niceties. I like that her characterisation, and the film more broadly, pushes at the narrative of women being helpless. Jess is simultaneously a victim and perpetrator of exploitation. Then there’s Tom, who is may be a genius or a psychopath. Many movies walk this line, and it’s a testament to the writing and performances that this one remains unpredictable. However, to an extent, I think the ideas behind the central relationships are more rewarding than how they play out.
For instance, though the lack of personalisation may be partially the point, Jess’s relationship with her dad feels too functional and obviously a plot device. Likewise, the scant backing story about her mum seems perfunctory. The need to give the movie momentum is traded off against some of its depth, and dialogue scenes tend to contain the minimum information required to push the plot on – it’s like Dani Barker, also writing, can’t wait to get herself into the barn. And then seemingly can’t wait to get herself out one way or another. This style of writing makes for a lean thriller, where there’s barely time to breathe, yet it means that the dramatic stakes feel minimal. Especially in the later sections, where it leans in more to having us question what is and isn’t real.
In some ways this lack of clarity is interesting as it puts us in a similar position to Jess – on edge and unsure what to think. As the camera drifts around her apartment, like a voyeur seeing into her life, we share in her vulnerability. But it’s also frustrating since the consequences seem less important and there just isn’t enough threat to overcome this. I also wasn’t convinced by the erotic scenes, which were too rushed and forced for me. There’s some neat world-building towards the end, as we learn what’s really happening, but again the approach was too austere, and I wanted just a bit more than I was given. Still, it’s a neat and surprising movie that signals the emergence of some new talents. Way more enjoyable than doomscrolling all day.
This film screened as part of Frightfest 2022. For more information on the festival, please visit www.frightfest.co.uk.