So many of us live our lives publicly on social media. Whether it’s influencers advertising perfectly curated products, photos from a family gathering, or creating FOMO, each and every one of us has chiseled out what we want our identity to be on social media. But what social media shows is only a small portion of what’s happening behind the bright, polished content being posted. And for some, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. In Sylvia Caminer’s latest film FOLLOW HER, written by Dani Barker, an up-and-coming live-streamer learns the price of what can happen when you push past the boundaries of consent.
In FOLLOW HER, struggling actress and live-streamer Jess Peters (Dani Barker), known to her online followers as J-PEEPS, has finally found her hook: secretly filming creepy interactions she encounters via online job listings, and using the kink of others to fuel her streaming success. For her next episode, she’s been hired to write the ending to a Hitchcockian erotic thriller in a remote, lavish cabin. Once there, Tom (Luke Cook), the alluring self-proclaimed screenwriter, hands her a script in which the two of them are the main characters. This client isn’t what he seems, and even though the money’s great… the real payment here could cost her life.
FOLLOW HER has a lot to say about social media and influencer culture, and the hunger to be relevant and liked. Jess has the drive to accomplish what she wants to become and the talent to go with it, but her approach to gaining notoriety and fame begins to impact the livelihood of other people. When one of her encounter videos goes viral, she learns that the man’s face is accidentally shown in the video. Faced with the decision to delete the video, which has reached over a million views and brought her to the top 10 of the live-stream site, Live Hive, or feign ignorance, her decision ultimately sets in a motion the events to come while forcing the viewer to confront who the real villain of the story is.
The majority of the film takes place in one central location which allows for a contained build-up of tension, passion, and thrills before reaching a crescendo and bursting forth in a shower of deceit, lies, and revenge. It’s clear that writer/star Dani Barker is a fan of Hitchcock as she pays homage to him throughout the film. The setting, like any good Hitchcockian thriller, sets the course of what’s to come as this opulent barn is much more than a home for Tom but a character in and of itself. Additionally, the viewer is constantly challenged by who they can trust and the true nature of the relationship in front of them.
Like a good tennis game, watching Jess and Tom volley back and forth with one other is nothing short of entertaining. Whether conversing or in the throes of passion, actors Luke Cook and Barker have a strong, natural chemistry that easily felt real. Barker does a great job of capturing the hunger influencers have in order to stay relevant. That being said, as the movie progressed I wished that her character’s background had been fleshed out more, especially upon learning of a horrific tragedy that may have been the catalyst for where she is now. There also could have been more emoting from Barker as her character finds herself in an increasingly precarious situation. Towards the end of the second act, the emotional depth of Jess seemed to be fading and losing steam.
On the other end of the spectrum is Luke Cook who easily steals the show as Tom Brady. As a Bostonian, this gave me quite a laugh. His performance and dedication to the role really brought this movie to another level. Tom is presented as a charming, attractive man that oozes a dangerous, uncontrollable lust. How his character was written and the way in which Luke executed him is the strength of the film. It will very much keep you on your toes and have you guessing what his end game could be.
Director Sylvia Caminer did a superb job of telling Barker’s story, especially in terms of its visuals through cinematographer Luke Geissbuhler’s lens. He really captured the essence of a pop-like vibe that so often accompanies influencer content seen on social media. However, that slowly transforms into a more overcast, foreboding feel the further we descend into the movie. But where Caminer thrives is in how she sets up the tension and uses the camera and framing to make the viewer feel just as confined as Jess. However, where the film suffers the most is in its cohesiveness and tone. At times, it felt like I was watching three different movies, especially when the film transitions into the third act. Furthermore, the initial spark that sets off their desires for one another felt rushed. And the “erotic” portions felt diluted due to humorous quips during the more steamy moments.
Regardless of these bumps in the road, it was refreshing to have a woman’s voice seen through the lens of a female director instead of another cis-straight white man. Erotic thrillers wouldn’t be what they are without women being front and center, but the vast majority of these movies are directed by men. Outside of Katt Shea’s Poison Ivy, I can’t think of another mainstream erotic thriller directed by a woman, which is why a film like FOLLOW HER is so important. And, to Barker’s credit, she did a great job of crafting a story that flips the “erotic thriller” genre on its head.
Overall, FOLLOW HER is a solid addition to the erotic thriller genre. Though there are quite a few bumps along the way, the film is entertaining and thrilling enough to keep viewers interested and engaged. Add in a dash of meta-humor reminiscent of Josh Ruben’s Scare Me, while highlighting the dangers of social media, and you have yourself a layered psychological horror film that’ll have you questioning your own social media presence and how much privacy you actually have.
*This film screened as part of Fantaspoa 2022. For more information on the festival, please visit www.fantaspoa.com.
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