“Followers” is a uniquely British and lackluster attempt to show just how far some will go to achieve fame in this social media-driven age.
Followers, from writer/director Marcus Harben, begins with a quick cut introduction to a horrifying incident at St. Anne’s college with various narrations over the top. We are then introduced to Jonty (Harry Jarvis), an aspiring influencer who is driven to reach that magic number of followers as a means of reaching his life goals.
Already a failure, having been kicked out from a reality show, he feels his best chance to follow a well-trod path of going to University and recording his every move.
The housemates are introduced one by one, each with a specific defining characteristic. We have Zauna (Loreece Harrison), media student and documentary filmmaker, Amber (Erin Austen), blessed with looks but obsessed with all things online, and mature student Pete (Daniel Cahill), who appears to be in the throes of alcoholism and possessed by a hair trigger.
Jonty hopes that recording the everyday mishaps of college life will propel him into the upper reaches of online notoriety. But when he and his team capture what appears to be a ghost in one of their videos, the demand for more and more footage grows. So does his appetite for fame at any price.
Early on, we learn who we should be sympathetic to without immediately knowing anyone’s backstory. Straight away, Jonty is presented as an absolute weapon, with his cap at a funny angle and full of Bro speak that makes him look and sound like an unfunny representation of British online bloggers.
Each character is sketched out to an extent, but it’s lazy and stereotypical. For example, Pete is Scottish. Therefore, he drinks too much, is aggressive, and is careful with money.
Jonty’s journey and progression develop as you would expect, from a reality show reject to one of the most famous online personalities in the world.
Nothing bad really happens to him during this arc. And, as pointed out by Zauna, he’s a rich white male so what can really go wrong?
Compare this with the others around him, who suffer many mishaps during the story, from being attacked to being pushed away to ultimately realizing having a better intellect doesn’t win a fight against money and status.
Another on-the-nose point is that intimate photos of Amber are released to a blog, with the finger firmly pointed at Jonty because, hey, that’s what influencers will do to stay relevant.
Because this film seems to have concentrated on the portrayal of social media and its ills, it misses the fact that this is supposed to be a horror-comedy.
Unfortunately, it is neither funny nor scary. And other than fleeting glimpses of a face, or some low-key blood spilling from the lips of partygoers, there is nothing that is even remotely scary on display.
There are some very effective digs at the ‘Most Haunted’ type programs, where a team descends upon haunted locations in an effort to find proof.
These always require a medium with a spirit guide who you know is just absolutely barking. Here, the film crew finds nothing, but Zauna manages to find some historical information on the previous residents of the house.
At about the hour mark, someone must have pointed out that there needs to be a villain of some description here and some reference to the events recounted in the introduction.
And you know what?
It unveils like an episode of Scooby Doo in some respects.
Dawn’s flatmate, Becky, goes on camera to tell her story and point the finger at Dawn for dabbling in the occult and being out for blood. From here on in, you know that Becky has had something to do with everything going on.
It all unrolls so quickly to get to the finish line that, what could have been an effective story, is basically squandered in an attempt to hammer home a message about social media influencers and the power they have.
It shows self-styled influencers to be shallow and without a moral compass, while those who follow as being almost dependent on what this person will do next in order to make their life seem better.
The film also suggests (probably, rightfully so) that there will always be someone trying to manipulate and change you in order to improve their position. And, perhaps, that’s the real horror.
Sadly, the subtext is about all the horror there is to be found in Followers, and that’s not nearly enough to make it compelling or entertaining.