[Review] ‘Followed’ is tense social media horror

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Antoine Le‘s Followed is the latest movie to explore an Internet-based urban legend and how the need to be popular is often two-edged. A struggling social media influencer known as “DropTheMike” hopes to land a gainful sponsorship in exchange for documenting his stay at one of the most haunted hotels in America. Everything goes according to plan until Mike and his crew experience a series of unexplained events. While it makes for good clickbait, nothing about this situation bodes well for all those involved.

Horror shows the dark side of life, whereas found-footage movies emphasize it. And, with more people online than ever, it’s only natural for horror and social media to cross paths. Folklore on the World Wide Web today frequently centers around the macabre. The more linked in everyone is, the more desensitized they become to bad things. The movie’s main character certainly has developed quite the disconnect between himself and others’ misfortunes — many of which have been exploited online by vlogs and other virtual outlets.

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It’s established early on that Mike (Matthew Solomon) is unapologetically in-your-face about everything; both his on and off-screen personalities are a lot to take in for unprepared audiences as well as his loyal friends. At first, his brusque behavior is an obstacle, but, in due time, the story frames him in a more understanding light. Until then, viewers put up with his antics. Mike is yet another reiteration of all the obnoxious, self-important social media celebrities who clog up YouTube. There’s no denying he has charisma, though. When he’s given the opportunity to grow beyond his present follower count, Mike jumps at the chance. So long as he can tough it out inside the supposedly haunted Hotel Cecil in downtown Los Angeles, he and his wife Jess (Kelsey Griswold) will be handsomely compensated.

At the aforesaid hotel, Mike and his rag-tag crew — anxious best friend Chris (Tim Drier), camera guru Danni (Sam Valentine), and video editor Nic (Caitlin Utting) — each succumb to the setting’s insidious atmosphere in their own ways. Chris, already paranoid and wary, witnesses spooky things before his closest confidantes do; Danni soothes others’ nerves while ignoring her own; Nic is overwhelmed by an undeniable air of dread that only she senses. Meanwhile, their leader is positive that every creepy thing happening around them is all part of a ruse to help boost drama.

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Despite its built-in eerie locale and potential for jump scares, Followed shows a lot of restraint. It’s a busy movie where there’s little chance for rest or sustained suspense, but the film doesn’t immediately embrace chaos like so many other found-footage horrors do. Although, there is one specific, red-drenched, and neck-bending moment that will become the movie’s biggest lure. Otherwise, the calamity is saved for the end. The finale brings things to a head as it reveals something crucial that audiences probably already figured out.

Le and writer Todd Klick craft a functional, if not familiar, ghost story. It’s all tied to a local haunting that is all, more or less, smoke and mirrors. The scares are sometimes effective, but, most importantly, the filmmakers’ ability to humanize their off-putting protagonist shouldn’t go unnoticed. It’s that extra effort that seals the ending’s level of success.

Followed comments on what happens when people turn tragedy into entertainment. There’s an endless cycle fueled by morbid curiosities, and social media is the perfect platform for the results. DropTheMike embodies that callous approach to others’ misery while having his own suffering turned into someone else’s claim to fame. And that is the real horror here.

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