Scremafest movie review: 'Follow Her' leads viewers down gripping path

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Daily News | Online News Jess (Dani Barker) gets a scary new job opportunity in

Jess (Dani Barker) gets a scary new job opportunity in “Follow Her.” Photo courtesy of Classified Films

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 14 (UPI) — Follow Her, which screened Thursday at the Screamfest horror film festival in Los Angeles, has an interesting take on the two-hander thriller. Its commentary on social media culture is an insightful bonus.

Jess Peters (Dani Baker,who also wrote the script) is trying to make it as an influencer, performing fetish videos for everything from Dominatrix to tickling interests. She’s not making ends meet, though, and her father (Mark Moses) is about to cut her off and sell her apartment.

Jess responds to a job listing for a screenwriter. Tom (Luke Cook) is charming and makes good on paying her, but as their work progresses, he contrives unusual ways to keep Jess from leaving.

Follow Her sets itself apart from many generic horror movies immediately by making it a real drama about an ambitious girl and a disapproving dad. She’s not just fodder for a killer, but has a professional reason for getting in this situation, and it’s less sketchy than other offers in her field of business.

The awkward encounters of booking gigs online is a modern-day issue in any profession, not just online performing. And like the most dangerous threats, Tom is really good at appearing safe at first.

There’s a seduction, as well as the business partnership. Baker and Cook have real chemistry that blurs the line, even if the audience is already screaming, “Don’t go back to his house!”

By the time Jess reads the beginning of Tom’s script, it’s disturbingly personal. That’s when Jess gets the feeling she should leave.

Tom has a way of pulling back just when he’s starting to get creepy, so even the viewer may question whether he’s really dangerous or just awkward. But the whole scenario of Jess at a stranger’s house puts the viewer on her side.

The weirdest part is that he won’t leave for dinner when Jess suggests food. She can’t work hungry, so his deflections indicate he’s not really interested in quality writing.

Tom gets more overt with his threatening behavior. But Jess also uses her skills as a performer to turn the tables.

Performing is Jess’s world. If Tom is going to insist on playing games, she’s good at role playing.

Most of Follow Her takes place in Tom’s house between the two. The charismatic leads carry the script’s effective twists and turns. Sylvia Caminer directs the leads well through different setups throughout the house.

Follow Her has an insightful perspective on influencer culture and what that has done to storytelling. It also asks questions about victim-blaming, of which Jess is potentially guilty as well as those who’d suggest she put herself in this situation.

The film’s depiction of smartphone usage is accurate, too, even if they use fake social media platforms. The non-trademarked sites featured in Follow Her still work the same way Instagram and YouTube do.

When Jess is recording, Caminer displays Jess’ phone screen in a split screen. This shows the contrast of the actual scene and what she’s showing her viewers.

Baker and Caminer have something to say about whether social media empowers women as much as its most successful proponents may feel. Yet. it never sacrifices the tension of the thriller to make its point.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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