Follower, the latest feature from writer/director/actor James Rich (Animal) is another genre film allegedly based on a true story, in this case, “a disturbing true story that occurred in Northern Nevada in 2018”. Although with no attribution or links to the case it’s a bit hard to verify and the film’s introductory text is similarly vague. But I suppose that’s a change from text telling me that everybody connected to what I’m about to watch has disappeared without a trace.
Social media influencer Heather (Revell Carpenter, Hell Hole, Glass Cabin) and her friends Riley (Molly Leach) and Sam (Gigi James) are going hiking in the woods. It’ll be a nice relaxing bit of backpacking and a chance to get some good photos for her feed.
What could be better? What they don’t know is that Heather has a stalker (Chris Scarciotta, Airtight) who plans to join their trip. He’s out to prove himself to an online incel group so he plans to live-stream himself stalking and killing the trio.
We find out a bit about the killer’s mindset via a voiceover at the start of the film, but not enough that it could really be called characterization. Unfortunately Rich does put some effort into characterizing Riley, making her the stereotypical hate-filled, shrill, “woke” female that real-life incels constantly rant about. He makes her so unlikable so early into the film it almost felt like he was trying to justify the killer’s beliefs, especially as her two companions aren’t given any personality.
On the way to the forest, Follower tries to build some suspense as the women are followed by a large pickup with tinted windows. Heather also notices a post about a college friend being murdered. But that serves only to allow Riley to make an accusation of victim-blaming and further my annoyance.
Fifteen minutes into the movie we get to the woods. Normally that would be a good pace, but Follower only runs an hour and two minutes so we’re actually a quarter of the way through it at this point. We do get a quick look at an indistinct figure in the distance, but then the film shifts to talking about Sam’s psycho ex-boyfriend.
Eventually, our stalker, who’s only referred to as The Follower in the credits although he says his name is Dillon in the voiceover, sends Heather a DM with a picture of them hiking. Do they get worried and head back to the car? Of course not, though if they saw what happened to Jake (James Rich) the park ranger unlucky enough to find the guy’s camp they might rethink that decision. But then again, after he sends an arrow their way they still keep going and pitch camp, so maybe not.
Finally after what feels like an eternity of wandering around in the woods but is actually only forty-five minutes the killer makes his move on the women and Follower limps to its conclusion, complete with an obligatory false ending. Even the final image which is supposed to be chilling is a cliche. The only thing chilling about it is the idea of this fiasco getting a sequel.
Follower is supposed to have some kind of interactive component, and a title card tells us to have our phone ready, but all I saw were an occasional comment and a drawing I think was supposed to be an avatar along with what might have been email address or Instagram page flashed on the screen. Just like the film’s thrills or scares, the interactive element failed to materialize.
One of the most astonishingly bad films I’ve seen in a while Follower makes an hour seem like two or three. It feels like a twenty-minute short made for film class stretched out until it could be sold as a feature. Its slow pacing, horrible attempts at creating characters and long dull scenes of people walking in the woods create a tale you won’t want to follow.