Let’s see if we can get some followers.
Followed is another one of the livestream style horror films that fits nicely into the isolated feeling of 2020. New director Antoine Le seems to have a lot on his mind and utilizes the film to examine a major social issue.
We follow (heh) Mike (Matthew Solomon) and his crew as they are going to stay at a notoriously haunted hotel that has a troubled past. We have references to true crime (I’m not sure why they changed the Nightstalker’s name), other broader references, and some made up stuff. It becomes clear that we are commenting on the nature of true crime obsession, and the lack of respect given to the victims when we decide to go traipse around the crime scene.
However, we also have less commentary, but more screen time given to the nature of haunting television shows, where obnoxious hosts scare themselves.
The problem here is that Mike is completely unlikable. He is abusive to his friend Chris (Tim Drier) and manipulative to the others. He is loud, disrespectful, and completely myopic. Solomon jumps into the role headfirst, and truly captures a sort of solipsism rarely seen in film. Mike is little more than a giant spoiled child, and while it might seem over-the-top, it also seems to accurately reflect streamer personality. While the performance is admirable, it isn’t fun to watch. As with so many horror films, the protagonists are so unlikable that all we end up doing is waiting for the inevitable killing without any emotional connection.
Le wants to comment on the nature of participatory media, and how we as consumers will keep pushing hosts (like Mike) to do more and more outlandish things. This behavior is instilled in Mike in an early scene where he speculates what he could get a homeless person to do for a fee. While this showcases Mike’s own disconnection from the world, it also shows how transactional he views people.
On paper, there are a lot of good ideas present here. The problem is that Le builds more of a strawman instead of a real person. Sure, we can probably all accept the natural conclusion that a lot of true crime is somewhat exploitative. How we handle this issue within the genre is another discussion, and one that is certainly not here. With Mike’s behavior, it seems that all someone has to do is not be as much of an asshole as he is to be okay, which is a low bar.
By making Mike the worst person possible, the argument Le is making suffers. While there are complex ideas under the surface, they are obscured by what seems to be a grudge against influencers. I’m not particularly fond of influencer culture, but there is likely a reason why they are so popular. I can’t imagine Mike being popular when he insults his fans, friends, and everyone else so much. There was a missed chance here to have the mask on and off.
Ultimately, the meta-argumentative aspects are the only thing that separates this film from the hundreds of other similar stories. If you don’t like or don’t buy the argument, you’re stuck with another horror film with shaky camera and blurry ghosts.
I respect the ideas within this movie a lot more than I enjoyed viewing it. I’ve had a hard time writing this review as the tension between thinking it is at least bringing up some good points makes it hard to simply trash this one. It isn’t an enjoyable film. We’ve all seen it before—it follows the same process of just about every found footage story. However, it does make an effort to have us examine our participation in these genres.
I’m more curious to see what Le comes up with after this one. A steadier, slower hand might be needed in the future, but the ideas are there. I’d say skip this one though.