Followers shows us the horrific side of influencer culture in a chilling debut from the late Marcus Harben – here’s our review.
“Influencer” is an instantly divisive word. For some people, the notion that it could even be a job title is absurd, while others shudder at the idea of a career which entails spilling every facet of your life on social media for the world to see. At least that’s how many of us who grew up in the days before the ubiquity of social media see it. But for the internet-native ranks of Generation Z, the idea of filling their life with front-facing cameras is an entirely reasonable endeavour.
It’s into that arena that new British ghost story Followers – written and directed by the late Marcus Harben in his first and only feature – arrives. It follows a foursome of student strangers who are thrust together into the always-odd environment of a shared house. Obnoxious posh boy Jonty (Harry Jarvis) is a disgraced former reality TV star seeking to rehabilitate his public image, while the equally camera-loving Zauna (Loreece Harrison) wants to build a platform for her socially-conscious filmmaking. Also moving in are Instagram-loving Amber (Erin Austen) and the “lone wolf” Scottish mature student Pete (Daniel Cahill).
Their fragile social peace is quickly fractured when things start going bump in the night and Jonty’s housemates suggest he might be staging a haunting in a distasteful attempt to go viral.
The unique dynamic of Followers provides a slightly different slant on the well-worn conceit of found footage horror. Jonty is established early on as someone willing to push boundaries of taste in order to attract viewers to his social media. “Only a right arsehole would post that,” says Pete after a particularly horrifying incident, only for the disturbing footage to emerge on Jonty’s page with grim inevitability shortly afterwards. With that in mind, question marks hang over the veracity of everything awful that happens.
It gives the film an intriguing, chaotic quality – enhanced by the decision to cut swiftly and unpredictably between different cameras and character viewpoints. Sometimes the bedlam is a little much as the movie unfolds in a cavalcade of follower numbers, efficiently tense skits and straight-to-camera confessional moments. All of the central cast members shoulder this burden well, with Harrison the standout as a determined woman caught between her clear moral compass and her desire to build a platform at any and all costs.
There’s also entertaining supporting work from EastEnders legend Nina Wadia as a well-meaning mental health worker who is increasingly preoccupied with using her own connection to the crisis to boost her own YouTube channel and book sales. She’s both a comic relief presence and a voice of reason, brought in to calm the situation down whenever things get a little too serious. When a blast of sponsorship money keeps the students in their house despite the escalating terror, she’s suitably incredulous along with the audience.
It would’ve been easy for Followers to operate as a straight send-up of influencer culture, casting its characters as vapid and reckless. But Harben’s script gives them more nuance than that, explaining what drives them to seek online affection and fame. Some characters fare better than others across the rather slight runtime, with Austen’s intriguing Amber sadly underused, even when a potent subplot emerges that should have led to her being given more emotional lifting to do.
But this is, for the most part, an efficient and fast-paced chiller that manages to do more with the idea of influencer culture than viewers might expect. It’s a movie made with an understanding of its characters rather than a desire to condemn them and, despite its frenetic and muddled plotting, it finds enough low-budget thrills to emerge as a worthy addition to the canon of British horror.
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