The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - PROFILE | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - PROFILE

profile review
A freelance journalist investigates the online ISIS recruitment network by creating a fake Facebook profile as a radicalised Muslim.

Review by Musanna Ahmed

Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov

Starring: Valene Kane, Shazad Latif, Christine Adams, Morgan Watkins, Amir Rahimzadeh

profile poster

Director Timur Bekmambetov has firmly established that his career now revolves around making films which take place entirely on a computer screen. He’s dubbed this new subgenre the "cyber life" movie. This tool for storytelling has primarily been used for thrillers with both Unfriended films, Searching, and now Profile. He produced all those films but also directed Profile. Is the market for such movies already at risk of oversaturation? I can’t say the answer is yes when the results are this exciting.

Profile may make the best use of the screen capture tool yet. The conceit is that there’s a TV journalist based in Hackney, Amy Whittaker (Valene Kane), who wants to do a story on how the so-called Islamic State uses the web to mobilise women from Europe. After finding a few Facebook profiles linked to the terror group, she intends to establish a Skype connection with the suspected manager of the ISIS recruitment team. That man is Abu Bilel al-Britani (Shazad Latif), a surname with a handy anagram for his origins.

profile review

The correspondence between Amy and Bilel is really a clandestine cat and mouse chase, where the cat and mouse are trying to seduce each other before they strike. Amy wants to get close to Bilel, but what she really wants is to coax him into revealing on camera the terror organisation's methods of recruiting women. Bilel wants Amy to be his wife, but when you remember he's a recruiter, you understand what his motivations are. Bilel is tough to penetrate, so the assignment lasts far longer than Amy expects, almost breaking herself under the pressure of a boss who wants to cut the story if she doesn't meet her deadline and a significant other who's forced to pay most of the rent following her delayed income. They live in London, so naturally the financial situation greatly affects their relationship.

The characters are well drawn: there's a solid, if occasionally distracting, personal drama about Amy's woes with relationships and work running in parallel with the thriller that is her venture with Bilel. As for him, sure, he's a humanised terrorist, acting all familiar when he sends cat memes and talks about love, but there's a difference between making him feel like a real person and making him sympathetic, the latter avoided by design - the use of real ISIS videos and images (not the vulgar ones but still very frightening) makes it impossible to have any sympathy for Bilel when he speaks of how he was treated in Britain before he departed for Syria. Sadly, it also says something about how young Muslims are radicalised when Western society shows little sympathy for them in the first place.

profile review

The screenplay also engages with the concept of how fear and anger are the tools used for recruitment by jihadists. Amy herself is somewhat fearful, even going as far as to lash out at her editor for giving her a colleague - whose job is to remotely record Amy's screen - of Syrian ethnic origins, claiming they're all interlinked. Amy's prejudice towards Syrians is a further insightful bit of social commentary, the message being how individuals are quick to blame an entire group of people based on the actions of a few.

When you have a solid screenplay with solid characters to boot, you need top actors to play them and two rising stars, Kane and Latif, are given the centre stage and do a sensationally good job. Latif brings charm and humour into Bilel, which is appropriate only because it's the type of personality that works for luring people into his trap. Kane's sincere performance encompasses two characters, the real Amy and Melody Nelson, her hijabi alter-ego.

While the two actors certainly have a respectable resume, it helps that neither of them look like their most famous characters (Lyra Erso in Rogue One and Lieutenant Ash Tyler in Star Trek: Discovery respectively) so the fact that they look markedly different to how we've previously seen them adds a layer of authenticity, much like how Paranormal Activity - which was a trailblazer for another subgenre - worked because of its unknown actors. Not only that, it works because they’re fully committed to realising their characters.

profile review

You'll be surprised at how often you'll laugh throughout Profile. For every terrifying recording of ISIS, there's a well observed gag about the mishaps that occur in how we interact online and about Amy's situation. It barely undermines the tension, rather it adds further enjoyment to the cinematic experience that wasn't found in Unfriended and Searching. Overall, Profile is a cracking film that has a lot going for it between the terrific performances, potent social commentary and an ample amount of comedy.

Plus, this uniquely digital form of storytelling is perfect for a unique narrative set across 3,000 miles and reflective of what happens in real life, with pre-credits text reaffirming how unmonitored parts of the internet are used for this twisted purpose. Like with Searching, Profile becomes a suffocating experience where the extended intercourse between the central two characters gives us little hope for Amy’s success. If there’s a consensus among all these cyber life thrillers so far, it’s that they’re ideal for those who enjoy tight, claustrophobic thrillers as the internet can be used to push people deep into a corner in multiple ways. Bekmambetov is leading the charge of the cyber life thriller and I'm here for all of it, until the possibilities run dry.

Profile is on Netflix UK/ROI now.