In recent years, the rise of the incel movement has led to some rather dark places and even darker deeds. There’ve been mass shootings and murders rationalized as acts against a society that has unjustly deprived deserving men of the sexual attention of women. The backlash against feminism has led to female creators being harassed by hordes of mouth breathing troglodytes who feel their owed affection by those same women. It’s a terrifying phenomenon, and James Rich deftly taps into it with his newest feature Followers.
Followers is a, ah, follow up to Rich’s previous film Follower. Expanding on the premise of the previous film, Followers opens with three friends (Heather, Sam, and Riley) on a yearly hiking trip that is interrupted by an armed man wearing a wolf mask who threatens them repeatedly until he is caught off guard and viciously beaten to death by Sam. Flash forward a year later, and Heather, a popular influencer, has made a docuseries on the events and invites the other two over to her home to discuss it. While there, they are attacked by men wearing similar wolf masks, and mayhem ensues.
I love me a good “assholes fuck with women and soon begin getting beaten just as good as they’re giving” horror movie, Spider One’s Bury The Bride being the most recent entry in this sub-genre. Followers starts out that way: not only does Sam beat the first attacker to death in the beginning but she also deals with another nerd jerkoff early in the second act of the film. But about halfway through Followers takes a wild left turn into even more horrifying territory. While the movie initially presents itself as empowered women vs. entitled men, the last act gives us an unpleasant reminder that what we’re watching is unfortunately just a movie and that real life is way worse in this case. See, the film isn’t just commenting on the existence of the incel/mens rights movement as a singular phenomenon but is also looking at the intersection of such a phenomenon with recognized and acknowledged privilege. Sure, “I’m a nice guy why don’t women like me?” is bad enough. Combine that with “Do you know who my dad is?” and you get something genuinely scary. Horror films have long (and justifiably) viewed the wealthy and connected as monsters, and James Rich uses that tradition to make Followers even more unsettling. The cops showing up is oftentimes used as a moment of false hope in horror films, but Followers might be up at the top with that trope. What you expect to be just another classic fake-out turns into a revelation that the villains in this movie are indeed very very rooted in reality, and the premise of this film isn’t nearly as out there as we’d like to think it is.
This is a near perfect film. There’s a twist I saw coming from miles away, but it doesn’t take away from the movie and feels quite earned in the context of what the film is about. If it has a shortcoming, it’s that it’s telling a story that doesn’t need to be told given the society we live in. Sure, men in wolf masks wielding assault rifles and barking a bunch of Jordan Petersen style horseshit is scary. But in a post Eliot Rodger/Alek Minassian/George Sodini/Chris Harper-Mercer/Nikolas Cruz/Scott Beierle world, seeing that in a movie isn’t nearly as frightening as what we’ve seen unfold in the real world in the last twenty years or so. Even the other male characters in this film are stereotypes of annoying modern men from someone’s angle: Heather’s boyfriend is an annoyingly vapid gun-obsessed crypto bro, an “alpha” if you will, while Sam’s boyfriend is every incel’s nightmare of a “white knight”: good looking, attentive and sensitive. There’s no real setting this film apart from something that could happen that’s kind of a bummer honestly.
Followers isn’t exploitive. It’s not using images of sexual violence merely to shock the viewer and then claiming that such imagery is justified given the grisly fate of the perpetrators. Rather, it’s addressing a problem in society today and doing so in a way that isn’t garish or outlandish. It’s simply showing us the results of the very real belief system that far too many men subscribe to. And while it’s an unflinching examination of the natural conclusion of the incel mindset, ultimately, it’s almost too realistic to be enjoyable. Almost.