On November 5th, 2016, an anonymous user uploaded a screen recording to social media websites. The video was removed by authorities within minutes. For years it could only be watched on the Dark Web. Until now :)...
...Director Antoine Le and writer Todd Klick take us inside a haunted hotel which features some real-life tragedies as well as some urban legends. Fans of podcasts or vlogs focused on deaths and disappearances will find the format of the film fairly familiar, but the content of the movie might also be recognizable. If you know intimate details about the Cecil Hotel and the elevator game, then this movie is for you. If not, use the film as a learning experience to gain more insight into one of America’s most haunted hotels and the psychological corruption some vloggers undergo.
Say ‘hello’ to DropTheMike (Matthew Solomon), the insufferable vlogger who goes to places known for suicides, disappearances, and supernatural visitations. Mike embraces the fanbase which dutifully follows the unsettling nature of humankind. However, unlike some of the more known podcasts or tv shows which highlight the innerworkings of the serial killer, Mike presents the stories in a more comical and obnoxious manner. Filled with false bravado, the vlog-host exploits countless tragedies to gain likes, shares, and subs. Yet, somehow the childish approach to death attracts the attention of a goth clothing line that offers the vlogger a large sum of money if he can reach a certain number of subscribers by the end of Halloween.
So, Mike reaches out to his audience (who he refers to as his minions) for suggestions for his next publicity stunt, and the unseen internet viewers choose Hotel Lenox. The hotel comes from fiction, but the foundation for the building and its terrible history comes from an actual place called Cecil Hotel. The over-exaggerated behavior of Mike also mimics real life people as the character strongly resembles controversial vloggers who brazenly visit sacred and solemn spaces with no respect for the dead. But while showing how an insolent vlogger’s comeuppance makes for an interesting plot point, Followed falls into the same trap it warns against by heavily using the tragic death of Elisa Lam as the focus for the movie. Both Hotel Lenox and Cecil Hotel (now called Stay on Main) claim to have experienced several suicides, housed at least one serial killer, and be the last known whereabouts of a woman who was last seen erratically behaving in an elevator (supposedly partaking in the Elevator Game). Said game emerged online in 2010 and has existed on the periphery of urban legends ever since. Basically, the ritual involves pushing elevator buttons in a certain order and the lift will take the rider to another realm.
While covering lesser known haunts and urban legends, Followed still uses the typical horror movie set-up and follows the predictable pattern of introducing the characters, introducing the expert who explains the history of the destination, and then dread sets in. The spooky hotel expert Wallace, played by John Savage (The Deer Hunter, Hair) and the Catholic raised best friend Christopher (Tim Drier) both speak out against the idea of actually staying in the hotel, but Mike’s overzealous glee blinds him to any warnings. Even when approaching the entrance of the fabled hotel, more warning signs appear, and Mike still laughs all of them off.
However, despite the distinctive horror movie opening, in the world of found footage films, Followed presents a strong entry in the subgenre. Through the hotel’s backstory and the numerous urban legends which seem to exist on every floor of the building, Followed is just good, tense fun. One particular aspect to especially love is the use of a unique setting for the film. No wildlife, no abandoned buildings, or suburban landscape devoid of parents. Instead, the vlog host and camera crew check into the 14th floor of a (mostly) upkept hotel in the middle of the city.
Removing the commonly used outdoor landscapes seen in most found footage films also removes the bouncy motion-sickness inducing camera movements (from most scenes at least). Some horror fans might find the unsteady camera technique an important or even a necessary means to convey a found-footage film, but a steady cam allows for a clearer distinction between the ‘professionally’ filmed shots and the scenes which occur during moments of panic and fear. Furthermore, the steady cam intentionally focuses the perspective and forces the audience’s eye giving the director a greater control over how the viewer will experience the film. The lens not only serves as Mike’s perspective on the world in front of him, but also a reflection into his mind. The steadiness of the camera or the pixilation of the images lets the viewer know the mental stability of the narrator as Hotel Lenox reveals more and more of its secrets.
Another interesting level of found footage-ness is the video clips which make-up the film are being observed by a faceless person. And while we explore further into the story, the video clips become interrupted by people trying to message or call Mike. The interruptions merge flashbacks and present day into one scene. All of which creates a duality of emotions and provide constant reminders that the outcome for the crew does not end well. The framing further develops the atmosphere as our point of view frequently becomes limited by a computer screen or very small physical locations. The claustrophobic setting of the elevator creates a heart-beating, breath catching environment, and even when escaping the lift, the narrow hotel hallways and small rooms further causes the movie to close in on the characters and viewers. Mike, Christopher, and Danni (Sam Valentine) spend most of the film in a tight frame with walls cornering them off. The tightness shows the personal closeness and bond between the crew (which the actors naturally depict), but the small spaces also heighten the tension.
Le and Klick, along with the well-selected cast and eerie setting present a good addition to the found-footage genre. Mostly relying on jump-scares, but also offering a fair amount of atmospheric tension and a plot that might lead you down a rabbit-hole of research, the movie makes for some entertaining viewing. Overall, Followed focuses on the perils of constantly seeking follows and internet fame as well as the risk of finding entertainment in tragedy and serial killers. The high experienced from creating a fanbase also launches some people into dangerous levels of denial as the vloggers lose themselves and begin playing to their minions. Aside from the dangers of fame, the film also shows the amount of risk which comes from not discerning between reality and urban legend. Most viewers might not know the elevator game, but perhaps this film will influence the myth to become more mainstream. I know next time I stay at a hotel I am going to give it a try.
P.S. Pay attention to the time stamp. How many hours does Halloween last?
Followed is now playing in limited drive-in theaters, and will be expanding to more theaters on June 26th.
By Amylou Ahava
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