“Creepy Passion” might sound like a dating site for certain high-profile members of the movie industry, but in this unambitious found footage horrorer, The Follower, from feature debutant writer-director Kévin Mendiboure, it’s the name of a faux YouTube program specializing in all things scary. That’s why its presenter, David Baker (Nicolas Shake, “A Prayer Before Dawn”), decides to head off to a remote mansion and interview its owner, Carol Anderson (Chloé Dumas, “Dracula Reborn”), an orphaned young woman who claims she’s being haunted.
Bear in mind that although David is evidently going to a great effort to visit Carol and hear her story, and he runs a channel dedicated to the supernatural, he’s already writing her off as an insane person in the car journey to the ranch. We’re off to a shaky start.
David’s presumption only deepens when he actually meets Carol, who is extravagantly strange. As she stands bug-eyed on her doorstep, she not only states that she trusts no human being, but also that she’s named her dog Cerberus. And that’s just the first conversation. At this point, David would be wise to obey the film’s tagline; and frankly I would extend the same advice to the audience: “Get out while you still can.”
David settles into crazy Carol’s house, where he installs a series of cameras. What he’s looking for isn’t entirely clear — his interviewing skills don’t go beyond responding to Carol’s trauma by saying things like, “That is undeniably freaky!” — so we can only assume he’s hoping to capture some “Paranormal Activity”-type . . . err, activity. And that’s what he gets. Gasp in primal horror at the sight of a chair shifting slightly to one side!
There’s purportedly a mad woman upstairs: Carol’s grandmother. Curiosity is a powerful thing, so of course David keeps going up there and reaching for the handle. (With all the pop horror movie posters in his flat, you’d think he’d have seen “Psycho” or “Burnt Offerings,” but clearly not.) Much of the film’s build-up involves David wandering around the house, getting shouted at by Carol, while the dog stares at paintings on the wall.
What it’s building up to is a rote mystery which, far from being revelatory, is simply another opportunity for the film to veer wildly into yet another subgenre. For all of David’s exclamations about Carol being “schizo,” it’s The Follower itself that suffers the personality disorder. Is this a film about a poltergeist? Or is it a psychological thriller about madness born of grief? But wait! Now it’s a slasher with Freudian elements. Its lack of focus is not a recipe for ambiguity, instead leaving every aspect diluted, and the plodding plotting (which makes 79 minutes feel like a miniseries) only serves to highlight the essential absence of horror at its core.
Allegedly scary scenes invariably follow the pattern of a deep rumbling sound, some post-produced visual static, followed by a tame jump scare. We get a tick-list of genre clichés: Carol wandering Sadako-like, head bowed under lank black hair; a fearful local providing town lore and pleading wariness; a demon radio; ghostly writing appearing on a bathroom mirror. Then there’s the scene where the plot jumps forward a month, and David insists to the camera that scary stuff has been happening in the meantime. Stuff, we must assume, that’s too scary for us, the audience, to get a chance to see.
The performances are not universally terrible, but they are conspicuously broad and hammy — which would be fine, except this style is out of sync with the realism of the found footage conceit. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The greatest enemy of any found footage film is its ability to justify the form; and I can’t help wondering if a more formalist approach might have served this particular story better. Then the protagonist wouldn’t need to keep explaining his motivations, and we wouldn’t have the tired spectacle of periphery characters insisting he turn the camera off.
All roads lead to a dismal final act, by which point the whole thing about David being an internet celebrity is completely out of the window. By now the character has lost all relatability, acting not on the logic of a human being, but merely to serve the demands of movie thriller logic. I know these YouTube guys can be obnoxious, but how dumb can you get? It’s an hour of screen-time, and apparently weeks of pseudo-journalistic investigation, before someone — not David himself, by the way — actually bothers to Google Carol Anderson and find out the truth of her past.
“I didn’t come here to find love,” David tells Carol. This critic didn’t come to The Follower to find love, either. Just a half-decent chiller would have sufficed. Something slightly spooky or surprising or smart. But it is none of these things. The Follower lives up to its title: Another sheep in the horror herd, with no new ideas in its head, and no ambition to step outside a very narrow paddock.