Two girls are on a boat on a river. One of them looks back behind them with a slight smile while the other takes a selfie.

Film Review: Influencer

Film Reviews

Director: Kurtis David Harder

In Theaters: 05.26

A quick glance at the Instagram page Influencers in the Wild will provide you with the genesis for Kurtis David Harder’s new thriller, Influencer. It’s a bunch of people relentlessly posing for glamorous photos in unglamorous backgrounds. Influencer begins the same way.

Social media personality Maddison (Emily Tennant) finds herself alone in Thailand after her boyfriend, Ryan (Rory J. Saper), backed out of the couple’s trip at the last second. Lonely and in a foreign land, Maddison does the only thing she knows how to do: post. She gives a chipper voiceover while a series of contradictory shots play underneath. “I am really seeing Thailand!” exclaims Maddison while eating a cheeseburger at the hotel and scrolling Instagram. This opening montage introduces the audience to CW (Cassandra Naud), the chain-smoking, pseudonym-toting femme fatale who, at the time, seems nothing more than an inconspicuous tourist emerging from the hotel pool.

 Maddison and CW meet for the first time later that day at the hotel bar. Maddison is trying to get the perfect selfie when an older British expat (Paul Spurrier) a few stools over asks if she’d like someone to take the photo for her. Maddison politely declines, and the two go back and forth  uncomfortably. Soon enough, CW comes over and, in the way an old friend might, chuckles and tells the expat to “get a hint.” CW gets Maddison out of the bar with the promise of a real experience in Thailand. The two women hit the town, exchanging the hotel-provided gastropub cuisine for real, local food. They eat, drink and find some nice American boys in the street to pick up the tab.

The dialogue up to this point feels a bit rushed and fake. These two strangers are straddling best friend status within just a few hours. Interestingly, the rest of the movie feels well paced. Perhaps this is Harder’s ultra-meta way of saying influencers are rushing through life with fake interactions. Why should the viewer’s first interaction with these influencers be any different? 

The film’s tone changes from here on out. Replacing the questionably cheesy travel story is the ominous music, dubious characters and great kill scenes that comprise any good thriller. Those familiar with Harder know that there’s almost a Jordan Peele–ian aspect to his work. In the way that Peele uses the horror genre to play with  everyday racial dynamics, Harder surfaces the terror within other, seemingly innocuous parts of life. In Spiral, it was having a gay couple move into a small-town neighborhood. With Influencer, it’s the grasp social media holds on our lives.

 There’s also a fascinating question dancing around the second half of the movie. We’re lonely. Does that cause us to hurt others? In Influencer, the harm was both physical violence and social media trickery. In the real world, it feels as though it’s often the trickery with physical violence becoming slightly more prevalent in recent years. This movie gives an interesting look into the often painful social media rabbit hole.

 Influencer was a surprise. The emotions in the first 15 minutes are worlds away from those in the last. Cassandra Naud’s chameleon-like waltz from charming to sadistic then back to charming cannot be understated. It pairs well with Harder’s clear love and appreciation for all things horror. While young, Harder has already established himself as an ambitious new voice for the genre. Influencer may not be the jump scare–slasher film of the summer, but it does leave your palms sweaty enough to leave the theater happy. –Norm Schoff

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