Released: 16th July
Seen: 20th July
In the early part of 2019, I reviewed a little film called Escape Room. While it was something of a hit financially it was less so critically. I particularly didn’t like it for three main reasons. The first was that it wasn’t as smart as it liked to think it was, the second being how tame everything felt and the third was the strobe lights. I didn’t exactly give that film a high mark, but if a film came around with a similar concept that didn’t pretend it was smarter than it was and actually made things feel dangerous, maybe I’d like it more. This was my thought pattern when walking into Follow Me which I definitely enjoyed more, but I still don’t think this concept has worked out all the kinks yet.
Follow Me follows annoying vlogger Cole (Keegan Allen) who may as well have a giant sign floating over him saying “Jake/Logan Paul Standin”. He films everything, lets his audience decide what he does and has basically forgotten how to function in the real world like a decent human being. Because he’s a rich vlogger with a bunch of rich vlogger friends, they plan a big trip to a Russian escape room so he can vlog about the experience. Of course, once they get into the escape room things are a little more extreme than they thought. The puzzles seem to actually be putting some of them in danger and if they survive, they still need to get out of the building they found themselves stuck in.
From the moment the film starts you can see they’re trying to really make you like these characters, giving us plenty of time with them before we enter the escape room. It’s honestly a good idea in theory because then hopefully we’ll care a bit more when the danger finally sets in, but in practice they really only let us seriously get to know Cole and his girlfriend Erin (Holland Roden). The other three members of the main group are effectively just ‘The Comic Relief’ ‘The Friend’ and ‘The Girl’ when it comes to characters. When it hits you how little time they’re putting into those three other characters in comparison to Cole and Erin, you kind of realise how the film is setting up the three friends as effectively cannon fodder… even though much later on in the film, it then expects you to really care about ‘the friend’ character when we’ve maybe spent a minute and a half with him.
Once we get to the actual escape room portion of the film though, that’s when you can really see this film’s big influences. The film borrows heavily from Saw and Hostel, not just in tone and setting but there are literally several major ideas that are just lifted right from those two movies. There’s nothing wrong with this in theory, to quote an old teacher of mine “Good artists borrow, great artists steal” so I have no real problem with them taking some things from those films… but they forget to take the actual tension and shock that those films had.
For example, in the first Saw one of the most intense moments is the infamous bear trap sequence where a terrified Shawnee Smith ends up having to cut open her ‘dead’ cell mate to retrieve a key from his guts. It’s a horrific moment, genuinely terrifying and comes with a great emotional capper. This film copies that moment but there’s no tension, no shock, no one tells the main character to go digging in the guts of the corpse. It’s never referred to again when they realise that everything is real, they just did it because that’s what Saw did and this middle section of the film is the Saw section where there’s a bunch of traps with puzzles that cause pain and serious injury.
The traps themselves are kind of interesting and tense… or they would be if the characters weren’t omniscient beings who know everything that’s coming before it happens. This is particularly notable in the sequence where our main character is trying to get his friends out of their assorted traps and without any problem he manages to solve each of the puzzles. The tension never comes from the puzzles being difficult or complex, but due to everyone being rampant douchebags. No instructions are ever given to him, no riddle or weird clue. There’s just a puzzle and after one look he solves it. There’s literally a moment where there’s a maze and one character says out loud something to the effect of “I’ve solved it, just do what I say”. The characters seem to have read the script which really takes away a ton of the tension because I know they’re going to be fine, they know which grate to climb through so why should I worry?
The film does definitely pick up once it stops trying to be Saw and starts trying to be Hostel, it’s a sharp turn and it definitely raises the stakes but it also comes with its own problems. Hostel’s plot was fascinating, and it’s what’s being borrowed here, but Hostel is mostly remembered for just being a visceral violent bloodbath and Follow Me just isn’t going to go there. It certainly goes far enough to not be able to get a PG rating, but it’s not enough to be as shocking as it wants to be. It holds back more than it should, you can almost see it wanting to break out and have more impact but it never quite gets there… at least, that’s what I would’ve said if I walked out of this movie 5 minutes before the end credits.
Not spoiling a damn thing but the final scene of this film actually manages to salvage it and make it something I would suggest watching. It’s the kind of ending that makes you want to cheer in awe because they were actually willing to do something genuinely clever and surprising with the ending. It’s the kind of ending that almost (ALMOST) explains most of the problems I brought up earlier, in particular explaining why the film isn’t as visceral as it could be or how some characters seem to know the answers to the puzzles ahead of time. It certainly doesn’t explain all of them (and also doesn’t really forgive some of the bad acting and iffy dialogue) but it’s an ending that certainly gives the film a little something extra.
On the whole, Follow Me is a fun little riff on social media by letting us imagine an annoying vlogger going through hell. It feels like it would have fit in better around the early 2000’s when it’s obvious influences were the big thing at the box office, but it still manages to have a few good moments, particularly towards the end. This is an average movie with a fantastic ending, it’s probably going to go under the radar for a lot of people but if you’re looking for something kind of scary to watch as a sleepover you could easily do much worse.