New this week in drive-in theaters! Available On Demand and digital download Friday, June 25!
Directed by Antoine Le
Written by Todd Klick
Starring Matthew Solomon, John Savage, Blanca Blanco, Kelsey Griswold, Kate Romero, Sam Valentine, Caitlin Grace, India Adams, Karan Sagoo, JoAnna de Castro, Mark Oby Brown, Todd Klick, Tim Drier, Sonia Pizarro, Thaddeaus Ek, Brianna McClellan, Terumi Shimazu, Sarah Chang, Evette Murphy, Doreen Fox Loughlin, David Nesler, Gregory Adkins, Ethan Alexander, Alex Robert Holmes
Find out more about this film here!!
It’s been a bit since I busted out my good ol’ found footage checklist. Found footage films seem to be on the decline, as many immediately retreat to “hated it” territory as soon as the first shake of the camera. Still, it’s a cheap way to make a film and an easy sell for filmmakers trying to break into the business, so I don’t see this genre completely dying out. The reason why I do my found footage checklist is because, more than any other genre, the found footage film has to come off as authentic to work. The more authentic the footage looks, feels, and sounds, the more convincing it will be to the viewer. For me, more so than the type and quality of the scares, the acting, and the script, whether or not I could buy this as a film that was found is the most important factor. I understand that this isn’t a qualifier for everyone. I also understand that I have seen hundreds of found footage films, so I might be a little pickier than your average, casual found footage watcher. But for me, if the film doesn’t feel authentic, it immediately loses points.
I say this because FOLLOWED has an interesting concept, decent acting, and a story with a lot of potential. The film also has a whole lot of well-timed and cleverly placed scares peppered pretty much all the way through. There’s a lot to like about FOLLOWED if you look at it from this angle and I feel that if that’s all you need in a movie, then you’re bound to have a good time with FOLLOWED.
That said, in terms of feeling like an authentic found footage film, FOLLOWED has some problems.
FOLLOWED centers on Mike (Matthew Solomon) who’s Youtube channel “Drop The Mic” takes a look at all kinds of creepy locations that are supposed to be haunted. Mike is offered a sponsorship of $25,000 if he is able to reach a specific amount of viewers, so he runs a contest to figure out where is the scariest place he should go. Almost unanimously, his audience votes for Mike to go to the Lennox Hotel in Downtown LA – a site where a serial killer used to live, multiple suicides and murders have taken place, and reports of paranormal activity are abundant. Mike is stoked for the chance to spend the night there and convinces his crew, consisting of two camera operators and an editor, to spend a long weekend investigating the hotel. Once there, the creepy stuff almost immediately begins to happen and though his crew wants to bail, Mike’s need for fame and fortune makes him throw caution to the wind and continue the investigation.
Are the actors successfully acting like they aren’t acting?
For the most part, yes. Mike is an attention-whore and that’s a quality many Youtubers have. He enjoys being the center of attention and even when things get crazy, Mike believes it is just his legions of fans messing with him rather than anything really paranormal. Solomon looks a little too much like Jake Gyllenhaal and he seems to know it a little too much too. The rest of the cast are decent as well, acting convincingly scared, playful, and sincere when they should be.
Does the footage found seem authentic and untouched by additional production (which means there is no omniscient editor making multiple edits between cameras or an invisible orchestra providing music)?
This is where things get tricky. “Drop The Mic” is a produced Youtube channel and all of the footage has been worked on by the show’s editor. This means that music and cuts are used throughout the film, so the videos that are taken through the investigators’ cameras are supposed to have added music and cuts between camera operators. BUT—there are other scenes of a person playing the Youtube channels, seemingly taken from a first person cam. In these scenes, there is music and editing used when they should just be raw, unproduced footage. There is also a point in the film where there is no longer an editor present to edit the material together and add music, but there are music and edits nevertheless. These details really pops the authenticity balloon for me and took me out of the film, not a good thing for a found footage film to do.
Why don’t they just drop the camera and get the hell out of there?
The film manages to address this as Mike is very convincing in keeping his camera crew working despite some crazy stuff going on. At one point, one person does have enough and leaves, which I found to be refreshing and realistic. Mike’s aspirations for fame and fortune are what keeps the cameras rolling. Even when he is in crisis, Mike seems to need to have the camera on and I viewed it as more of a character flaw than a real contrivance of the genre.
Is there an up-nose BLAIR WITCH confessional or a REC-drag away from the camera?
Not really. Most of the time, the characters are just running around hallways of the hotel, so no one suffers the overused drag-away. There are confessional moments in FOLLOWED, but they arise as more like info-drops that appear awkwardly throughout the film. At a very specific point, we learn through a conversation between Mike and a camera operator that something traumatic happened when he was a child. This was a moment where the actors sort of faded away and I could see a writer trying to get out of a hole he wrote himself in. There are also quite a few conveniently timed phone calls where an expert about the hotel (played by John Savage) calls at the right moment to reveal a secret about the hotel that he either just uncovered or has held back until this very moment. These instances of discourse really skid the momentum to a halt during some dramatic and scary scenes. By the time shit goes down, there shouldn’t be a moment where we need a lengthy explanation by someone about what it going on. All of that legwork should have been peppered in towards the beginning.
Does anything actually happen? Is the lead in too long and the payoff too short?
FOLLOWED does manage to keep things interesting and relatively scary all the way through. The film really does achieve a GRAVE ENCOUNTERS level of intensity as they run through the hallways of the hotel and encounter one creepy entity after another as if they were going through a carnival ride. There are a lot of “comin’ at cha!” moments that work. Director Antoine Le keeps things active and rolling all the way through.
Does the film add anything to the subgenre and is it worth watching?
FOLLOWED isn’t a bad film. I think a lot of Youtube star-seeking personalities are annoying and a film focusing on that is difficult for me to sit through. Others might not have that reaction. Honestly, I really feel much of the problems of FOLLOWED come from the fact that it would have made for a better movie had it just gone with a straight forward cinematically filmed format rather than taken the found footage route. The late in the game info drops and tardy revelations about Mike’s character and personality would not have been an issue had we been able to use flashbacks, repeated scenes that add clarity, and other kinds of edits that help tell a story. I got what the film was trying to do with Mike’s backstory, but I feel the trappings of found footage limited the film’s ability to communicate that as clear as it needed to be. FOLLOWED has a few revelations in the final act that I believe needed a more conventional storytelling method to be completely successful. It’s one of the pitfalls of the found footage genre. Everything is in the moment, so a story relying on so much history should shy away from this format.
Also, I feel FOLLLOWED would have been much more effective had they simply used the real footage and real names of the Hotel Cecil mysteries rather than renaming them. I understand, most likely, this was a way to honor the dead and victims associated with the hotel and since I believe the Hotel Cecil is still open, real names might not have been a possibility. But Basically only changing the names while keeping most of the other details the same makes things feel inauthentic.
I feel FOLLOWED is a flawed film, but it has good intentions and does possess quite a few great moments of terror and mayhem. I think the storytellers bit off more than they could chew with how much story they wanted to tell. I also think the found footage trappings didn’t do the film many favors. Maybe the authenticity thing is a hang-up I need to get over. There are some very good films that don’t adhere to the no music/no edits format. Still, the cream of the crop of found footage (BLAIR WITCH, TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN, AS ABOVE SO BELOW, to name a few) are able to keep the camera rolling and capture the terror as it happens. Every step of production is a step away from authenticity. There would be more good found footage films if filmmakers just would follow the format and not just think of it as a low fi way of making money.