REVIEW: Follow Me (2020)

followme_posterA social media influencer falls into a violent nightmare in Follow Me, a 2020 horror film written and directed by Will Wernick (and released in some markets as No Escape).

Cole Turner (Keegan Allen) is a social media star boasting several million followers, and celebrating his 10th anniversary uploading his globe-trotting adventures onto the Internet. To commemorate the occasion, one of his friends (George Janko) has arranged for Cole and his entourage to experience an extreme new escape room with the help of a wealthy Russian fan (Ronen Rubenstein). Being a horror film, you can rightfully assume Cole’s escape room experience does not turn out the way he expects.

Follow Me is not going to win any awards or accolades, but it is a serviceable and ultimately rather effective little slice of survival horror. It follows a lot of well-worn genre tropes, but adds in enough ideas here and remixes enough elements there to acquit itself rather well. I had concerns over quality while I watched it, but by the conclusion most of those concerns had abated.

One problem with which the film initially struggles is the whole idea of influencers. These Internet celebrities, the most successful of whom are invariably privileged white Americans coasting around the world on someone else’s dime, instinctively irritate. Their combination of wealth, confidence, and bravado seem to immediately generate a sense of the ‘ugly American’, and are oftentimes quite difficult to tolerate. It takes Follow Me a while to allow viewers to engage and sympathise with Cole, a process that requires to film to strip away his presenting persona and begin expressing himself in more authentic and vital terms. Until then he and his friends – particularly obnoxious wing-man Dash (Janko) – feel little more than cyphers to be inevitably killed off one by one as the horrors emerge. The only character that seems genuinely sympathetic from the start is Cole’s girlfriend Erin (well played by Holland Roden), but it is difficult to understand how she and Cole became a couple, and why she should so patiently tolerate his antics.

It is worth persevering. Early sequences, while struggling a bit with character, do successfully up the tension. There is an immediate sense of distrust towards fawning Russian elite Alexei (Rubenstein) and his seemingly endless employees and bodyguards. The film leans into modern Russia’s reputation (founded or otherwise) for flashy gangsters and endemic corruption. It is clear to the audience that something is going to go spectacularly wrong, and a lot of the film’s first half involves waiting for the penny to drop on its unwitting characters.

Once the central escape room experience begins, Follow Me pitches headlong into very familiar territory. I say survival horror, you say torture porn; either way it is immediately clear where the film’s second half is going. Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005) is one obvious touch point, and Rockstar Games notorious Manhunt (2003) seems another. Follow Me does not fully head into exploitation territory, however, and while the violence is over-the-top its presentation is surprisingly conservative. Gore-seekers are much better served elsewhere.

To an extent Follow Me slips and falls between two stools: fans of extreme horror may be attracted by the premise, but become bored with the execution. More mainstream viewers will likely either blanch at the potential violence and stay away, or simply find the somewhat pedestrian production values and direction too ordinary to persevere. There is plenty of worth here, but more immediately enjoyable characters and a bit more invention in the aesthetic would have helped enormously. Watchable, enjoyable, but also – it must be said – a little forgettable. One for the genre devotees, and for the more forgiving.

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