Starring Matthew Solomon, Sam Valentine, Tim Drier
Written by Todd Klick
Directed by Antoine Le
Even though some people cringe when you mention the found footage subgenre of horror, I’m one of the weirdos who gets excited about it. I watch a lot of found footage and I enjoy some of the lower budget films, but that doesn’t mean they are all good. Sometimes technology and found footage get together to create movies like The Den (2013) or Unfriended (2014), which present the point of view of not only the camera, but also incorporate social media applications like Facebook or Youtube. When done well, these kinds of found footage films allow the audience to feel like part of the story and can feel particularly intimate and terrifying. The new tech/found footage film Followed does a lot of things right, including involving the audience in the story and setting up great scares. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the film is currently playing at drive-ins across the country and you can find the complete list of locations here.
Followed is director Antoine Le’s first feature film and was written by award-winning screenwriter/producer Todd Klick. The film follows a popular vlogger on social media, Mike, played enthusiastically by Matthew Solomon, known online as dropthemike, who films himself at supposedly haunted locations. Mike is offered a sponsorship and a lot of money to make a video about The Lennox Hotel in Los Angeles, that was allegedly the site of several murders and suicides over the years. An infamous serial killer once lived in the hotel and was rumored to have killed some of his victims there as part of a demonic ritual.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because the real-life Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles was home to serial killer Richard Ramirez (known as the Night Stalker) in the eighties. Over the years, several mysterious deaths and suicides have occurred at The Cecil Hotel, as well as the unexplained death of tourist Elisa Lam in 2013 and there is a video of her in the hotel’s elevator, which went viral. Along with a serial killer and suicides, the story of the fictional Lennox Hotel in Followed includes an urban legend about a girl who went missing after a video of her in the hotel elevator circulated on the internet.
Mike filmed several videos at The Lennox Hotel, with his crew, and posted them online, but then went missing. The videos were removed and now only exist on the dark web and Followed is shot from the point of view of someone pulling the videos up one by one and showing them to the audience to tell the story of what happened to Mike and his friends.
Mike is excited about the sponsorship and making the video at The Lennox Hotel, until his camera man Chris, played by Tim Drier, refuses to go because he had a ghostly encounter as a child. Mike recruits his friend Danni, played by Sam Valentine, to do sound for the videos and to convince Chris to go with them. Mike also enlists the help of his friend Nic, played by Caitlin Grace, to edit the videos, and the group checks in to The Lennox Hotel. Nic stays in a room alone to allow her to edit, and Mike, Chris, and Danni stay in another room together, where they almost immediately begin to hear strange noises. Followed does an excellent job of slowly ramping up the feeling of unease as you watch the story unfold, and the point of view makes it feel like you’re watching at home on your own computer. The film utilizes typical handheld camera footage, but not the seizure-inducing shaky camera shots used by other films.
Weird noises soon become threatening, shapeshifting apparitions and the group begins to feel spooked. Matthew Solomon skillfully portrays Mike as the kind of hyperactive, but entertaining, video blogger we’re used to seeing on Youtube, who is also skeptical, but scared of the events unfolding in the hotel. When a video edit isn’t finished, Mike, Chris, and Danni check on Nic, only to discover her in tears and confused in her room. They think she just needs some rest and continue exploring the hotel.
As part of his video series on The Lennox Hotel, Mike also interviews an author and historian named Wallace, played by John Savage, who you may recognize from films like The Deer Hunter (1978) and shows like Twin Peaks (2017). Among other things, Wallace tells him a gruesome story about a detective, who killed his wife and son in the hotel, and the detective’s other son, who has never been found. After Mike and his crew witness ghosts with missing body parts, Satanic rituals, and maybe even murder, Nic is inconsolable and an injured Chris insists on leaving and tries to convince Danni to come with him.
The ghostly effects in Followed are subtle, but effective and while I did wish that some of the effects were a bit more over the top and graphic, this movie genuinely gave me the creeps to the point of needing to turn on the lights before entering a dark room. Followed is low budget, but well made and the performances are all realistic. The shocking fate of Mike and his crew is haunting, and the story has an interesting, true crime twist. This movie is fun and certifiably scary, and it proves that you don’t need a big budget and flashy effects to make a compelling horror movie.
Followed remarkably combines social media and found footage to tell a spine-chilling story that will make you want to leave the lights on.