Influencer review – smart thriller about Instagrammers in mortal peril
In this smartly arranged thriller by Kurtis David Harder, Canadian actor Cassandra Naud holds her own as a kind of social media Tom Ripley, out in Thailand preying on vacuous, smartphone-toting influencers while coveting their silky lifestyles. Broken down into four parts following different characters, the film dabbles in but doesn’t wholly conform to the now-standard satirical takedown of 21st-century popinjays. There’s something darker and more solipsistic at work here: Naud’s repeated spiel of “They won’t even notice you’re gone. Nobody cares” is just as rehearsed and trite as other airheaded Insta-platitudes.
Her character, CW, first gets her claws into Madison (Emily Tennant), a fellow American making nice for her feeds but actually moping around the Thai coast because she’s having a hard time with her British boyfriend and manager Ryan (Rory J Saper). So when CW steps in at a bar to protect her from a sharking expat, Madison is glad to be swept into the wake of this free-spirited font of local secrets. Weeks later, she has gone missing, CW has headed to Bangkok to target Madison’s bougier and more confident clone Jessica (Sara Canning), and Ryan – rattled by the radio silence from his girlfriend – jumps on a plane.
Influencer is reminiscent of Wild Things in its lascivious cynicism, though fittingly for the sterile digital times, no one actually has any sex. Everyone in the film is venal and self-serving to differing degrees, even the nominal saviour Ryan, though in his braying way he is the most perceptive of the bunch. Using Naud’s birthmark as a quick signifier of CW’s evil would seem the kind of disfigurement prejudice you’d hope cinema was outgrowing. But it fits here as a commentary on the social media world’s fixation with appearance, and a form of difference that CW exploits. “You’re unique,” Ryan reassures her about her online potential.
Harder and co-writer Tesh Guttikonda don’t delve beneath the skin of their characters enough to fully flesh out their critique and bring Influencer into full psychological thriller territory. We find out nothing about CW’s past or motivations, only her marks’ guesswork about her. But the four-part shuffle keeps it lively, and Naud is an imposing black hole.