Dir. Marcus Harben
by Ellis Reed
Here’s a treat for indie horror fans: Followers (UK, Marcus Harben, 2021) will be playing in Vue and Showcase cinemas from 18 March.
Jonty (Harry Jarvis) is a disgraced-but-unhumbled ex-social media star. Now at university, he posts videos of his ‘journey’, trying to establish himself as a student influencer. His less-than-thrilled housemates are Zauna (Loreece Harrison), a budding documentary maker; Pete (Daniel Cahill) a mature student with anger management issues; and Amber (Erin Austen), who is beautiful but emotionally fragile and needs regular sessions with student counsellor Becky (Nina Wadia).
Soon, the motley crew begin to experience paranormal happenings. Rave music is heard at night but they struggle to trace the source. Cupboards bang open of their own accord. Jonty sees the viral potential of this and pivots to making ghost-themed content. When his Youtube subs go through the roof, he manages to get his housemates on board, enticing them with the promise of internet fame. Even counsellor Becky is eager for a piece of the action. She hopes that, if she can land a ‘collab’ with Jonty, it will boost the profile of her floundering self-help business.
For a small production, the film is a very slick piece of work. The visuals do a great job of aping the social media world; the story is mostly (but not entirely) presented as a mockumentary, mixing found footage, VOs, and clips from Youtube. Our review screening was on Vimeo, and for the most part, it was showing in full screen… but when I had to minimise it to fiddle with the volume, the result was strangely apt, like I was viewing the film in its proper context. The visuals make perfect sense when embedded on a webpage.
Thanks to the inclusion of ‘reaction videos’, Jonty’s fans also get a share of screen time, acting as a sort of Greek chorus for the social media age. It’s more tongue-in-cheek than outright comedy, and the result is far more grounded than, say, Zomblogalypse (UK, Hannah Bungard/Tony Hipwell/Miles Watts, 2021). That said, you’ll frequently smirk and sometimes laugh out loud at the characterisations.
It’s more of a supernatural mystery than a full-on horror, although a couple of moments are likely to raise real shivers. We also get some surprisingly explicit (and very effective) moments of gore in the final act, when the mystery escalates to a surprising and bold conclusion. That said, the tone of the film means you’ll spend more time smiling at the deft skewering of ‘influencer culture’ than covering your eyes in fright. Followers explores the same thematic territory as Death of a Vlogger (UK, Graham Hughes, 2019) but leans more into the humour and less into the horror of the premise.
Apart from the excellent presentation, the film really shines in the interplay between the housemates, who do a great job of holding interest with strong performances. Three of them could even be unlikeable, but thanks to the actors, you’re drawn into their antics and root for them to succeed. For the most part, the personalities on display are larger (and broader) than life, because they’re written to carry the social commentary as well as the story. Becky’s transparent thirst for Jonty’s fanbase would be OTT if it weren’t satirical; more than once, she practically licks her lips at his mounting subs before ‘selflessly’ offering to team up.
The finale will make or break the film for a lot of viewers. It’s unambiguous and pretty bonkers, and for my own part, I really liked how it lurched in an unexpected direction. I can imagine it being a bit of a ‘Marmite’ pay-off for some, but don’t let that discourage you from watching the film and making your own mind up.
To end this review on a sad note, the end credits begin with a dedication to first-time filmmaker Marcus Harben, who died after finishing it. I enjoyed it very much and would have loved to see more films of this quality. Followers, then, is his debut and swansong. It’s a well-made satire of social media, featuring strong performances and memorable scenes, with some very creative editing. If you don’t get chance to see it at the cinema, make sure you catch the inevitable release on digital and check out the trailer below.
Release date and trailer for
by Ellis Reed
Screenbound Pictures and Blue Dolphin Films have announced that Followers, a supernatural horror comedy, will be in cinemas from 18 March 2022.
The film was written and directed by Marcus Harben and produced by London-based Parkhouse Pictures, who previously brought us Anna and the Apocalypse (UK, John McPhail, 2017) and The Kindred (UK, Jamie Patterson, 2021).
The plot summary is as follows:
‘Jonty, a failing influencer with an ambition to reach over a million followers, will stop at nothing to become famous. A new start at university brings with it hopes of a resurgence in his popularity when a demonic presence appears in his student house. Jonty decides to stream his and his housemates’ experiences with this supernatural entity to gain the fame and fortune he’s most been craving. But at what cost?’
And here are some more details from the press release:
‘A darkly comic satire on today’s influencer generation, Followers combines horror with humour in the tradition of Get Out and Black Mirror putting a fresh new spin on found-footage movies. What starts as an hilariously bad YouTube video series develops into a warning to the world about a shocking new strain of supernatural serial killer.
After hosting its World Premiere at Frightfest UK in August 2021, Followers has been praised as “entertaining from beginning to end” (Horror Obsessive) and a film that “keeps the audience guessing” (Entertainment Focus) with “scares that work” (Starburst).
The film stars an “excellent” (Entertainment Focus) young cast of up-and-comers including Harry Jarvis (Netflix’s The Knight Before Christmas), Loreece Harrison (Misbehaviour, Black Mirror), Erin Austen (The Kindred, The Royals), and Daniel Cahill (Anna and the Apocalypse) as well as featuring Orion Lee (First Cow, Pixar’s Turning Red), stalwart of the British film and TV industry Nina Wadia (Eastenders, Strictly Come Dancing 2021 and the upcoming Netflix series The Sandman) and one of the UK’s biggest social media influencers, YouTuber and actress Tanya Burr (Sky’s Twist, Venice at Dawn).
For writer/director, Marcus Harben, this insightful chiller, which dissects our fascination for the transience of fame and social media, was set to be the first of many feature films. Sadly, this was not to be, as Marcus’ life was cut cruelly short by cancer in early 2021 after post-production had ended. Shortly before he died, Marcus described his motivation for creating Followers:
“I’ve always been obsessed with the ultimate puzzle of all found footage horror movies. We get who is shooting the footage – but who is cutting it all together? I’ve also been obsessed with the rise of the Influencer, especially when an actual reality star became President. I was able to combine those obsessions with Followers. I had billions of ideas that took a while to prioritise, but we ended up with a twisty, turny, spooky, darkly amusing little supernatural horror movie.”’
I’ll be making a special effort to catch this one, and I urge you to watch the trailer below, because it looks very funny indeed.