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{FrightFest} Follow Her

How far would you go to stay Internet relevant? Follow Her asks this tricky question, giving way to a thought-provoking cautionary tale of social media fame and boundaries.

Screened as part of FrightFest 2022, this twisty thriller from director Sylvia Caminer follows New York’s up-and-coming influencer, Jess Peters. This digital heroine is portrayed by Dani Barker, who also penned the script.

Follow Her’s Jess explores and exploits people’s kinks for content

An aspiring actress who bombs one audition after the other, Jess has found her niche as a content creator under the alias of J-Peeps. Her format is simple, yet not exactly ethically sound. Using hidden cameras, she secretly films creepy encounters she has when responding to classified online job listings. Exploiting other people’s kinks for her content has granted Jess a certain popularity at the expense of her morals. But she finds it hard to stop given she’s so close to her goal: being in the top ten of the fictional live-streaming website Live Hive. 

When her father cuts her off, her fluctuating income and hunger for fame push her to accept more unusual gigs. In her ongoing attempt to ascend to the Mount Olympus of live-streamers, Jess responds to an ad from the mysterious Tom Brady (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s Luke Cook). A self-proclaimed screenwriter. This charming Australian needs a co-writer to finish the script of an erotic thriller “in the vein of Hitchcock” he’s been working on. A step up from Jess’s usual jobs, this writing project pays well, which is why she’s more than happy to leave New York City behind to go meet her new boss in a foggy, desolate park with poor service. Ignoring all the most typical horror movie signs, the protagonist follows Tom home. There, she risks it all to capture what could become her most popular live stream.

A Hitchcockesque thriller for the digital era

Courtesy of Fright Fest

Split into three acts, the film is branded as an erotic psycho thriller, much like the film-within-the-film Jess and Tom are working on. Adding to the meta allure of the story, Follow Her opens with a long establishing act à la Hitchcock — creating a link between the movie we’re seeing and the one Jess and Tom will write together. 

This lengthy first section digs deeper into a content creator’s day-to-day, showing Jess’ struggles to make ends meet and her shallow friendships with others in her industry. But it’s the central act that makes Follow Her stand out among most social media horror films. And not because of its relatively tame sex scenes, more playful than straight-up sexy. Nonetheless, it’s refreshing to see a woman behind the camera for such a thriller, with a female-driven script flipping the narrative of submission.

The roles of villain and victim are continuously reversed

At its most compelling, Follow Her follows the dramatic, collaborative writing process where Jess and Tom suss each other out in the scary setting of his converted barn. So aesthetically pleasing that it could easily make it onto a design magazine, the barn slowly turns into a trap, removed from the rest of the world both physically and digitally. Alone and with no service, the role of villain and victim are continuously reversed as the film forces the audience to reflect on personal responsibility in the age of digital oversharing.

Caminer’s brilliant direction makes the most of this self-contained space, the claustrophobic yet stylish location where the cat and mouse game between the characters takes place. Meanwhile, the camera of cinematographer Luke Geissbuhler zooms in on Jess as the uneasy feeling she’s being watched grows. 

Courtesy of Fright Fest

Finding out Tom’s motive will keep you on the edge of your seat, fearing for Jess’ safety while also anticipating her comeuppance. Acting-wise, Cook’s over-the-top performance as the unhinged Tom takes center stage. As the power dynamics between him and Jess change, it becomes apparent that there’s something more than meets than eye in this kidnapping thriller.

Follow Her surprises audiences with a second act twist

The big twist hits unexpectedly, making the film all the more original for it. Not that Follow Her doesn’t include a mandatory rant against influencers and their supposedly shallow lives. Yet, the film offers a more layered and complex portrayal of what it takes to be a content creator. The film prompts a conversation on social media identity and consent, highlighting how easy it is to cross the line in the digital realm, and how difficult it is to get back once you’re on the other side of it.

After the tension is defused, Follow Her tries reviving it, culminating its Hitchcock homage in a climax that attempts to leave the audience disturbed. While this should supposedly shock the audience, this final act isn’t quite as well executed as one would hope and feels a bit rushed, confusing viewers by adding more elements to the mix. Simple is better, especially when the rest of the film is so well put together.

The third act barely manages to stay afloat with a series of twists and turns in the lead-up to the final reveal. In the end, Jess’ truest nature is exposed when she’s confronted with her past and future, virtually choosing to be stuck in an ever-sharable present. The final frames tie this clever digital thriller with a loose bow, ending on an open debate that will stay with you for days.