For years, Indy's Heartland International Film Festival has sought to curate, promote and celebrate thoughtful and engaging films from diverse perspectives. To truly be a Heartland film, a film must do more than simply entertain. It must transform.
For some, the introduction of the horror genre into the festival just a few years back was almost unfathomable. If you attended any of that first year's horror screenings, you likely experienced the bewildered comments of people who were far more used to faith-based and family friendly films than anything even close to the horror genre.
I thought of these things multiple times as I watched Sylvia Caminer's psychological thriller Follow Her, an award-winning film that has gone gangbusters on the genre film fest but might seem a bit unusual at a festival like Heartland.
Trust me, Follow Her is a Heartland Film.
I first became familiar with Caminer's work with 2012's An Affair of the Heart, a feature doc about 80's teen idol Rick Springfield that I may have played a time or two or more as a longtime Springfield fan. Tackling a narrative feature for the first time, Caminer has crafted a film with all the required chills and thrills of a psychological thriller but also a film that is insight and more than a little thought-provoking.
The film largely centers around Jess (Dani Barker), a young and attractive woman who aspires to some degree of fame and has found hints of it by secretly recording her fetishistic encounters with a variety of men. They, of course, are oblivious as her camera is hidden and she blurs out their faces.
No harm. No foul. Right?
All goes well until it, well, doesn't. Having acquired a bit of a following but not nearly enough to actually support herself, Jess's latest video appears to be going viral when it is discovered that there is a momentary scene in the film in which her unaware partner's face is unblurred and completely revealed.
In case you're wondering, this isn't good.
The debate, of course, is whether she should take down this video that appears to be her most viral yet or to simply hope for the best. Pressured by her father (Mark Moses) to "get a real job" and on the verge of losing her apartment that she pays for, Jess remains conflicted when she receives what appears to be a legitimate offer to assist in the writing of a screenplay from Tom (Luke Cook), an attractive and charismatic chap whose entire being screams out "red flag" but, of course, Jess is confident in her self-protective skills and could really use the money.
The film that follows is unquestionably thrilling if somewhat familiar. Follow Her feels like films we've all seen before, though Follow Her has some twists and turns along the way that make it captivating throughout and far more thrilling as we enter the second half of the film and the film's framework is set up.
While Caminer directs, Barker not only stars in the film but delivers the screenplay that avoids the usual tropes of the vulnerable female as victim in favor of a few more psychological twists and an ending that will please some and disappoint others. Of course, that's what the best thrillers do.
Barker and Cook have a rather delicious chemistry, a tapestry of playful and menacing and back-and-forth exploitation. While most similar thrillers would easily place the female into the victim role, Follow Her plays it smarter and keeps us guessing throughout. Both Barker and Cook play both sides convincingly - both somewhat naive, both exploited, and yet both also easily willing to step into the role of the aggressor. It's a sort of cat-and-mouse game that's a lot of fun to watch.
Lensing by Luke Geissbuhler is strong throughout the film's tonal shifts and Alexander Arntzen's original music complements the film's multiple mood shifts quite nicely.
To be sure, some will lament the story's overall familiarity whether dealing with the dangers of social media or the repetitive poor choices made by both Jess and Luke that at times are downright unbelievable. So be it. This low-budget thriller still has enough thrills to make it worth our while and a strong enough chemistry among the co-leads to keep us invested in these character throughout the film's 95-minute running time. In the end, it's the story that turns this into a true Heartland film and if you give it a chance you'll likely understand what I mean. If you're looking for something gory, look elsewhere. Barker's far too smart for that and Follow Her taunts mind, body, and spirit to achieve its true impact.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic