Followed is a found footage thriller directed by M.J. Anderson and written by Casey Campbell. The film follows a couple on a cross-country road trip that are the unwitting target of a dangerous stalker.
Followed opens with footage shot by an police officer inventorying evidence retrieved from a crime scene, including a digital video camera, VHS tapes, a cell phone, diamond ring, and a handgun. In support of the all-important filming reason, an on-screen text message displays information about the case, including the statement, “Personal video extracted and scrubbed. Day markers and time stamps added. Requested supplemental security footage intercut.” Followed is presented in chapters segregated by day, starting with “Day 1, September 13th,” and continuing sequentially through the duration of the film.
The found footage portion of Followed starts with a farewell party where we are introduced to the two main protagonists, David (Adam LeClair) and Rachel (Stafanie Butler), who are moving from Chicago to Los Angeles due in part to Rachel’s new job with the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra. Footage shot during the farewell party captures the obligatory testimonials from friends saying goodbye to the couple, wishing them all the best.
The next day David films the couple’s nearly packed apartment as they prepare to head out on their one-way adventure to the West coast. David offers a self-testimonial to the video camera of his intent to propose to Rachel en route to Los Angeles as well as his plan to film the entire trip to document the occasion. Later that day, David takes a stroll around his neighborhood, nostalgically filming his final moments in Chicago. During his walk, David unintentionally films a man, whom he believes to be a vagrant, sifting through his curbside trash. David and the man briefly make eye contact with one another, and upon this realization David quickly turns around and heads home. Soon thereafter the couple departs on their journey.
As a backdrop to the couple’s adventure are news stories on the radio and discussions among various people of a serial killer at large in Chicago, as well as commentary describing the details of the grizzly murders. As David and Rachel drive cross-country, David comes to realize that the man he filmed outside his Chicago apartment is apparently following them. Is this man the serial killer everyone is speaking of or is there a nefarious truth that is far worse?
The found footage cinematography employed in Followed is spot-on. David’s use of his handheld video camera comes across as authentic and believable. Of note is his propensity to speak directly to the camera in the form of self-testimonials verbally working through the snags in his plan to propose to his girlfriend Rachel. David’s handheld camerawork is juxtaposed well with the surveillance camera footage captured at all of the hotels and many of the attractions the couple visits during their cross-country travels.
Followed includes several well choreographed scenes where footage of the same event are concurrently captured from David’s camera and multiple fixed surveillance cameras. These scenes offer two (or more) POVs of the same event, enabling viewers to see what’s coming seconds before David, which adds to the tension of the film. Also noteworthy is the film’s opening on-screen message indicating that the footage was subsequently edited by law enforcement officials, which justifies the well edited film, mix of handheld camera video and surveillance camera video, and inclusion of time stamps.
Found Footage Purity
The found footage purity is very well executed. The mannerism in which David wields the handheld video camera during the trip doesn’t come across as overly professional or deliberate, containing just the right amount of casualness suggesting that a novice is filming. Although well done, the found footage purity is not perfect – the film includes several scenes where David is stressed or in danger, and deliberately filming in a composed manner during these circumstances isn’t something the average person would do. Adding to the handheld video camera footage, the incorporation of surveillance camera footage taken from the public locations the couple visits on their journey come across as natural and add authenticity and texture to the film.
The filming reason used throughout Followed is well thought-out. As mentioned earlier, David and Rachel are moving from Chicago to Los Angeles, and David is filming their cross-country adventure, which includes visiting countless tourist traps along the way, meals at roadside restaurants, and hotel stays. David’s reason for filming everything is to document his proposal to Rachel as well as all of the events leading up to the proposal. As often happens in found footage films, the best laid plans never quite work out, and David finds himself recording self-testimonials where he laments over obstacles and strategizes how and when to propose to Rachel.
Acting and Plot
Adam LeClair (as David) expertly and convincingly portrays the love-struck boyfriend who is nervous and excited about proposing to his girlfriend, using just the right mix of paranoia and despair when their trip does not go as expected. Contrary to David’s upbeat personality, Stefanie Butler (as Rachel) plays the convincingly melancholic and reclusive girlfrield, who has virtually no patience for David’s unbridled enthusiasm and is clearly disconnected from the promise of what lies ahead in Los Angeles. Adam LeClair does a good job of expressing subtle hints of frustration over Rachel’s standoffishness and lack of enthusiasm.This dichotomy in personality is a substantive element of the story that resolves itself towards the end of the film.
The plot of Followed, is nothing if not interesting. The plethora of venues the couple visits add a continual stream of freshness to the already intriguing story. Layered on top of the couple’s cross country journey is the dark undertone of the serial killer at large, that is rarely spoken of or acknowledged by the two protagonists, but is hard to ignore. The payoff of Followed is the unexpected climactic reveal, which brings several plot elements into focus during the climactic ending of the film. The film also has includes an epilogue that delves further into the psyche of the film’s antagonist.