One of the strongest films at this year’s Fantastic Fest was the homegrown FOLLOW, shot in Austin and written and directed by Owen Egerton, three times voted Austin’s favorite author by readers of the Austin Chronicle. Noah Segan stars as Quinn, a struggling artist who seems to have the perfect girlfriend (Thana, played by Olivia Grace Applegate). On the verge of making a move out of town, and maybe suffering from some commitment issues, Quinn sends mixed messages to the waitress at the bar he tends – Haley Lu Richardson (one of my favorite up and coming actresses). When Quinn makes it home, Thana has an early Christmas present from him, a gun, which she wants him to put in his mouth while they are having sex. Quinn’s response to Thana’s weird behavior is to pass out, and black out, so the next morning when he finds her dead of a gunshot wound and the weapon in his hand he freaks out.
What ‘follows’ is a paranoia laced descent into madness as Quinn desperately tries to cover his tracks and remember just exactly what happened the night before. The film spirals and spills into a tension-filled pool of suffocating panic. Segan begins the film as everyone’s fun friend, the one you root for, and with each step past that line of decency, he takes himself further and further away from anything forgivable. It’s a tight film, clocking in at a mere 74 minutes, so there is not a second spared, and the audience is kept on the edge of the seat the whole time. Because Quinn is stuck with a body in his house, it becomes a claustrophobic prison for him, with little ability to plan an escape without someone else showing up. “I love stories of isolation,” says writer/director Egerton, “I love Roman Polanski’s Repulsion or The Shining, or other stories where the world seems to be shrinking in on the people living there. And then the world starts to reflect the madness of the individuals and the happenings inside the location.”
I had a chance to sit down with Egerton, Segan, Applegate, Don Most (who plays the landlord who lives next door, and producer Chris Colbert just before the film made its world premiere at Fantastic Fest. Egerton’s short FOLLOW made its premiere at SXSW back in 2013, and like the short, the feature came from Egerton’s short story collection How To Best Avoid Dying. “A very short story called “Christmas” incorporates, almost directly, about three minutes of the movie and was also the inspiration for the short that played at South By a few years ago,” says Egerton, “and then the other one is a story called ‘Tonight at Noon.’ I think the real heart of the story comes from “Tonight at Noon.”
Egerton had been writing scripts for studios and big budgets and came to the enclosed terror of FOLLOW as a bit of a reaction. “I knew I wanted to write something that was more the film that I wanted to watch as opposed to the film that I was getting paid to write,” he says, “I knew that that would mean making something with a more contained budget.” Unlike the typical CABIN IN THE WOODS stories where it is always such an excuse to get the victims out to their location and keep them in, FOLLOW perfectly locks Segan’s Quinn in for reasons that cannot be argued. He can’t bring anyone in from the outside because there is a dead body that he might be on the hook for and he can’t leave because he’s got a mess to clean up. “That’s right, the world can’t come in,” Egerton says, “ every time there’s a phone that rings or the neighbor knocks on the door, it’s the world trying to get in. The world’s dangerous, and we all know that.”
Quinn is as enigmatic as his artwork, a collage of shapes and colors that capture a view into another world, or a very fractured view of ours. According to Egerton, Quinn is “a frustrated artist, someone who is trying very hard to create, and to create the world and is not quite making and is not quite finding it.” Despite his search for inspiration, Quinn comes to discover that Thana is actually more alive than he is. More alive, if not a bit on the morbid side. “She is much more present and dealing with the actuality of what it means to be alive,” the director says, “while Quinn’s character is an artist who hasn’t quite broken through. So, in some ways, the story is a love story and part of the love story is an artist who finally kind of finds out what it is to be an artist.” In fact, Quinn’s ability as a collage artist may make him particularly able to put the pieces together of what has happened to him the night before and in the days leading up.
“The real reason is that Bob Schneider let us use his all of his artwork, so we decided we would make this guy an artist,” says Chris Colbert, producer. Egerton actually met with Schneider, an Austin music legend, and watched him doing his collage work when he was thinking of making Quinn an artist. “He’s cutting things, and he’s gluing things,” he remembers, “it’s a form of Frankenstein work where you’re cutting up different parts from different images and you’re making something new that’s beautiful and slightly off. I’m like, ‘Well, that’s our movie – beautiful and slightly off!’ So, I asked him ‘Can you tell me about this? Tell me how you do it.’ And he gave me quick lessons on how you do that art. And then, yeah, Chris went over with a pickup truck.
Schneider also make a brilliant little cameo in the film singing at the bar where Quinn works, I won’t say anything else about it, but that’s its especially good if you’ve ever seen Schneider live, which I have at least ten times.
I’m pretty sure he’s lying, although with this group, anything seems possible. They did shoot the film in April and had it finished in time for Fantastic Fest in September, probably the fastest turnaround time of any feature here. “Oh, we could have been faster, right, Chris?” asks Egerton.
Applegate: Silence, radio silence.
Segan: Is there like some sort of mouth agape emoji you can put in for Chris’ reaction there?
Colbert: He got them the film Thursday night at midnight, so I don’t think we could have been any closer….
No word yet on FOLLOW’S next festival or distribution but expect another film from Egerton sooner rather than later. “I have some other scripts that I’m looking forward to making in the near future,” he says, “so, I’m hoping that next year at Fantastic Fest there will be another film.”