“Followed”: A found footage horror film that goes deeper than jump scares

Social media has become a platform in which millions of people participate in the exchange and consumption of information and virtual human interactions. It is projected that by the year 2019 there will be an estimated 2.77 billion social media users around the globe. This will be up from the calculated 2.46 billion in 2017.

The popular video and vlogging (video blogging) social media platform YouTube has over one billion active users a month. Very popular vloggers can make upwards of thousands of dollars a month. In an age where the millennial generation is less well off than previous generations, and the so-called “gig- economy” dilutes the potential of livable consistent wages for many, being a popular social media star can be quite alluring. The found footage horror film, Followed, uses vlog footage to tell the story of a young man who allowed the lure of social media stardom to take him to one of the most haunted hotels in Los Angeles. The film offers frightening scares mixed in with social commentary on media, and the current priorities of our society. This makes for a film that puts a modern spin on found footage movies, while keeping in the tradition of using the horror genre to dig deeper into social issues.

The main character Mike, played by Matthew Solomon, is a popular vlogger specializing in horror. The audience is shown Mike’s various antics of going to different supposedly haunted locations, as he revels in the gruesome stories associated with the sites he highlights on his popular video channel. He is often seen treating these haunting tales of murder and death with humor. He appears to be desensitized from the stories of human suffering. Mike’s desensitization is a theme that appears more than once in the film. The audience learns that Mike has been offered a large amount of money from a potential sponsorship deal if he is able to get 50,000 more subscribers by the end of Halloween night. He decides to entice subscribers by doing a multiple night stay at an infamously cursed hotel in Los Angeles, and film it for his audience. The hotel has an ongoing missing person case associated with it, along with a history of brutal murders.

Mike pulls together a small team to accompany him to the hotel. He is joined by his best friend, cameraman, and tech guy Chris, played by Tim Drier, another camera person Danni, played by Sam Valentine, and video editor Nic, played by Caitlin Utting. Mike has a loving fiancée, Jess (Kelsey Griswold), who doesn’t go on the trip, but he communicates with sporadically by video chat. Along with this, he gets supernatural expertise, which he ignores, from Hotel Lennox expert Professor Wallace, played by John Savage. From there the small crew goes to the hotel, that appears to be in the heart of Los Angeles’ infamous Skid Row, as things go from harmless social media posting to a fight for their lives and sanity.

The film does a good job of creating an atmosphere in which the viewer can believe that this story actually took place. One of the terrifying elements of found footage horror films is the idea that the people that the audience is watching on screen are real, and that the viewer is witnessing an actual happening. Of course, since the cult favorite The Blair Witch Project, the novelty of actually believing a found footage story has worn off, but Followed creates a tone that could be real, making it so the viewer doesn’t have to travel too far in their suspension of disbelief to believe the narrative. The fictional Hotel Lennox in the film is actually based on a real hotel in downtown Los Angeles, called Hotel Cecil, where Elisa Lam passed away in 2013, as well as where serial killers Jack Unterweger and Richard Ramirez stayed. The hotel is also known for its many suicides and ‘haunting’ anecdotes. The film incorporates these real-life happenings within the movie, playing well off of the lore of Hotel Cecil.

Another positive of the movie is that the characters are layered and not caricatures or overdone horror film tropes. When we meet Mike, although desensitized and pushy for internet fame, he’s played truthfully by Solomon in a way that grounds the character. This helps the viewer identify with the character’s plight as opposed to being passive viewers waiting for his demise.

Director Antoine Le made note of this emphasis on character-driven plot in a statement to the press in which he said, “The film’s focus would be on the characters, not just the horror set pieces. After reading Todd’s brilliant screenplay, it was apparent we shared the same ideals on how the characters could be presented. Our goal was not to exploit the true-life tragedies of these victims, but rather, expose our youth’s obsession with social media. This was the fresh perspective that would make Followed not only necessary for me to make, but for audiences to see.”

Le’s words speak to another aspect of the film, where it digs deeper than jump scares and horror tropes. There’s messaging in this movie that comments on the world of social media and skewed priorities of a society. In the film Mike is very obsessed with getting new subscribers, but when passing through Skid Row to get to the hotel he makes fun of the homeless that occupy the streets. Mike, the horror vlogger, is desensitized to the real life horror of poverty that plagues not only Los Angeles, but the country as a whole. As writer Todd Klick noted to the press, there seems to be a “lack of empathy” in a scramble by vloggers to gain more views. This is a noticeable theme in the film that gives an added layer to the plot.

Yet, even with this messaging and deeper layers, the movie itself is not lacking scares and horror moments. The atmosphere and characters come together to make for a terrifying journey into the unknown by using social media to do it. Editor Matthew Brewbaker does a skillful job of interposing the social media platform, and the uploaded vlog footage, as though it is the viewer who continues to watch this tragedy unfold by clicking on the videos and watching the terror. It’s almost an interactive experience, just as social media is.

Overall, Followed is a film with great scares and a deeper message that makes for a unique time at the movies for viewers. It premiered at the Burbank International Film Festival in 2018 and is set to make its nationwide theatrical debut this year on April 10. The latest trailer can be found here.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.