The Dangers of Electronic Validation in FOLLOWERS

Followers. 2018. Directed by Ryan Justice.
Starring Amanda Delaney, Justin Maina, Sean Michael Gloria, Nishant Gogna, David E. McMahon, Emily Steward, Esmeralda Chapa, & Bianca Taylor.
Justified Films
Not Rated. 82 minutes.

★★1/2 out of ★★★★★

Disclaimer: The following contains significant spoilers about the film, in connection with the themes discussed.

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 5.45.12 PMFollowers wasn’t my cup of tea. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything worthwhile. Sometimes, even the movies that don’t land every punch they try throwing can still capture attention. Personally I dig found footage, and so I’m always willing to give these sort of flicks a chance. Granted I’ve seen plenty of bombs, there are a lot of titles in the found footage sub-genre I’d consider worthy pieces of work; particularly in terms of horror.
Found footage is also a prime sub-genre for examining postmodern issues in society. That’s not to say Followers capitalises on its premise or any of the plot and character which comes out of it. There’s potential wasted. There are also things to be said, and maybe learned; you decide.
The story concerns Brooke (Amanda Delaney), a YouTube yoga and lifestyle guru, and her boyfriend Caleb (Justin Maina) – a couple whose lives are lived in the public eye constantly; maybe not 24/7, but damn close to it. They head out for a camping trip that’s relatively cut off from the internet, though cameras and phones with cameras are along for the trip. Also along, unknown to the couple, are Jake (Sean Michael Gloria) and Nick (Nishant Gogna), who’ve been making a documentary about how easy it is to track people who live their lives online, and to show how potentially easy it’d be for someone to do something awful to them.

The whole movie takes on postmodern ‘internet famous,’ or Instafamous culture, if you prefer. As opposed to full-fledged celebrities and those who’ve reached whatever you’d call true fame – specifically in an era after Björk’s stalker Ricardo López and Hinckley nearly killing Ronald Reagan in a twisted attempt to impress Jodie Foster – Instafamous people are without security in the world. They go about posting their near every move, including locations, and untold amounts of random people follow them; many of whom are even relatively anonymous themselves. This is an even newer danger than some of the cyberstalking cases that have already emerged in the early days of the internet, simply for the fact the info doesn’t need to be acquired by a predator through risky means: it’s all put out there willingly by those seeking fame, recognition, and purpose in a postmodern society that’s celebrity + internet obsessed.
Even the camping trip Brooke and Caleb go on isn’t wholly natural anymore, as is the case with so many people out there, not just those getting money for what they post. The average Instagram user posts 80% of their life online. Instagram culture makes camping just another off-shoot of suburban living, rather than anything like it was once upon a time. Cameras, cellphones, champagne; a far cry from Jack London.
Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 6.34.37 PM

“You think because you watch some videos that we post online that you know who we are?”

In this day and age of social media, we’re forced to reevaluate our preconceived notions of public v. private, as well as what public itself means (i.e. the extent to which a public figure is indebted to their public, et cetera). Moreover, there’s a judgement aspect in there, as well; one implicating the audience. It’s all about perception, after all, and sometimes the audience/viewer does not perceive everything, which inevitably leads to some particularly judgemental judgement. There’s an almost-superiority in the viewer, who comes to see themselves as part of the lives of these people, and in feeling so they likewise believe they’re able to pass judgement.
This is partly what plays into Jake and Nick, as the two documentary filmmakers hoping to make “cinematic history” by shooting what they believe is a groundbreaking documentary on contemporary social issues surrounding the thoughtless use of social media. Of course it’s ironic, after we see that one of the pair is out there for an entirely more sinister purpose. At least, so we think.
This further allows a full circle-style justification for why people ought to be concerned about and careful with their online privacy. A cautionary tale of postmodern human horror, when the private crosses over into the public without enough consideration of the ramifications. We’re led to believe Jake intends on affecting change in a horrific, violent manner. Except everything is not as it seems. There’s an interesting technique used, where we see an event from the POV of Caleb and Brooke, then cut back earlier in the story from Jake and Nick’s POV.
The big issue is, this technique, as well as the mystery/suspense surrounding Jake, are squandered when a final twist comes into the picture. Everything Followers builds up in its first 3/4 is fumbled in the final 1/4. There are a couple creepy scenes (Brooke seeing Caleb’s intent for proposal is a knife in the gut), and the intensity of the suspense building up until the last 25 minutes is top notch. Unfortunately none of that’s used effectively, which dashes the movie’s hopes of a genuine statement about postmodern fame seeking and internet culture.Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 6.40.48 PM

“I’ve tried to be what you want me to be”

The entire runtime of Followers, I rooted for its themes to really break out and explode across the screen. They didn’t, and it’s really a shame, because Ryan Justice has a fantastic, compelling premise which needs exploration. And horror, being my favourite genre, is – and has always been – a perfect genre to tackle difficult issues. Sadly, the ending really breaks down. If it weren’t for the last twist, perhaps the Jake and Nick side of the plot would’ve been able to cut deep. There was just no need for that last addition; the movie wouldn’t have suffered a bit if that element were cut out, and instead Jake and Nick’s characters were played out more to the end it seemed they initially aimed towards. More than that, some bits about Brooke’s character never played out in any meaningful way, so they were just loose threads that were left dangling.
Either way, despite Followers not hitting its mark, there are interesting things at play. Justice does excellent work in the first hour of his movie, and that’s undeniable to me. The acting works, as does the writing and the story itself. It’s only in the finish, those last 20 minutes or so, where the acting goes downhill alongside the string of plots tangling together. If you can look past the surface enough, there’s commentary within speaking to how deeply our society is falling into the rabbit hole of technology, and what that means for humanity, safety, and, yes, depravity.

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