The Movie Waffler New Release Review - INFLUENCER | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - INFLUENCER

Influencer review
A holidaying social media star is befriended by a woman with sinister motives.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Kurtis David Harder

Starring: Cassandra Naud, Emily Tennant, Rory J. Saper, Sara Canning

Influencer poster

A few years ago it was brought to my attention that some bloke on the other side of the world was routinely copying and pasting my reviews onto a website and passing them off as his own. After a few frustrating weeks that largely involved me harassing him through his bogus site's comments section, he eventually took down the site. There are far worse things that can happen to you on the internet, but it was extremely annoying nonetheless. Director Kurtis David Harder (Spiral) and co-writer Tesh Guttikonda's Influencer is about the sort of identity theft that happens a lot on the internet, where people steal others' work in an attempt to earn cash or clout. But while it deals in this very modern phenomenon, it's a very old school psycho-thriller at its core.

Madison (Emily Tennant) earns a living from her image, posting photos of herself against glamorous backdrops to her Instagram account, usually sporting some outfit she's been paid to promote. If she's a modern day Dorothy Stratten then her Paul Snider is her photographer boyfriend Ryan (Rory J. Saper), who manages her online persona, from which he presumably benefits financially. After booking a trip to Thailand with plans of exploiting the locale for what the kids call "content," Ryan is forced to pull out due to work commitments, leaving Madison to travel alone.

Influencer review

The fake front Madison presents online is detailed initially through a voiceover in which she boasts about how great her life is and how she's "experiencing Asia the way it was meant to be experienced." The montage this plays over however shows a bored young woman going through the motions of looking happy on camera while never leaving her resort, where she chows down on tellingly American burgers.

Madison is shaken from her stupor by the charismatic CW (Cassandra Naud), who rescues her from a drunken lech and takes her on a whirlwind tour of Thailand's nightlife and natural scenery. CW appears to be the polar opposite of Madison. She's camera-shy, always covering a birthmark that adorns her face (and does nothing to detract from her beauty), but lives in the physical moment rather than online. When she takes pictures of Madison, the latter is surprised to find she's using a film camera, whose pictures must be developed rather than instantly available for sharing. CW's charm allows Madison to drop her guard, and when CW takes her new buddy to a secluded island, we begin to connect the dots back to the image that opens the movie, that of a corpse face down in the sand in a similar setting.

Influencer review

If that initial montage makes Madison look pathetic, it's not because Influencer is setting out to pluck the low hanging fruit of simply satirising "influencers." Those of us who roll our eyes at the mere mention of that label will probably be guilty of taking an instant, judgemental dislike to Madison. But as we spend time with her we begin to feel bad for damning her with our preconceptions. She seems a decent sort and is far from the type of narcissistic personality we might ascribe to someone who makes a living showing themselves off to adoring strangers. Madison, it seems, is deeply insecure, and it only takes a single Zoom call to clue us into the domineering role Ryan is playing in the whole enterprise. We dislike Ryan from the off, but once again Harder and Guttikonda's script scolds us for judging too quickly. When Ryan pops up later in the sort of role Vera Miles filled in Psycho, we realise that he genuinely loves Madison and that he's an alright bloke, even if he is a bit loud and obnoxious. Ryan appears to be masking his own insecurities, and Influencer suggests that an entire generation is struggling to put on a front in an age when conventional career opportunities are rapidly evaporating.

It would have been easy for Harder to present us with unlikable victims for a villain whose motives we might empathise with, so kudos for his presenting us with a more humane approach. Through the casting of Naud, the film plays with our preconceptions of those whose physical appearance makes them stand out. If we surmise that CW's targeting of Madison, and later a similar blonde influencer played by Sara Canning, is motivated by jealousy of their conventional looks, it's made explicitly clear that CW has long ago accepted that she looks different. What seems at first like a self-conscious act of covering her distinctive birthmark is later revealed as something altogether more contrived. CW is the least insecure character in the film, and while she commits some heinous acts, there's something that young women in particular may find aspirational in the character's resourcefulness. Naud is incredibly charismatic in her initial guise as the worldly CW who sweeps Madison off her feet, but is also able to convincingly freak us out when she later finds herself backed into a corner and is forced to drop the act.

Influencer review

Ironically, Influencer benefits greatly from its photogenic setting, taking a cue from real life influencers in adopting a glamorous backdrop for production value. Like all those erotic thrillers of the '90s that have recently been reassessed, Influencer is set in a superficial world of gleaming white villas that barely seem to have any furniture. Late on it even flirts with the iconography of the erotic thriller when a topless CW mounts a prone victim, putting us on edge as we expect her to reach for an ice pick under the bed.

Its title wouldn't have drawn recognition a mere decade ago, but Influencer's contemporary concerns mask a classic thriller, one that could have been made 30 or 80 years ago. Technology may change, but thrillers always rely on a compelling villain and a twisty plot, both of which are very much present here.

 is on Shudder from May 26th.

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