My notes on Influencer (2023)
For obvious reasons, dozens of horror/thriller films in the last few years show social media personalities on various platforms coming to bad ends – combining the age-old slasher movie convention of throwing pretty but unlikeable folks into a meat-grinder with an opportunity to make satirical points about the sorry, shallow state of celeb culture in the 21st century. So Kurtis David Harder’s Influencer (2023) seems on very familiar ground in a ministory which turns out to be a long pre-credits sequence. Blonde Madison (Emily Tenant) posts selfies of herself in luxurious/beautiful Thai locations and rhapsodises online about the food she’s eating and the fun she’s having, though she’s IRL miffed that her manager/boyfriend Ryan (Rory J. Saper) has decided he’s too busy to come on the dream vacation he’s organised for her and thus open to the friendly overtures of CW (Cassandra Naud), a mystery ex-pat with obvious connections, whose beauty is not marred by a facial birthmark which becomes a challenging focus for the film. It’s too easy to equate physical and psychological abnormality, but Naud also demonstrates that standards of beauty really have changed – she’s never less than gorgeous, even when she pulls a truly evil trick on her new friend and then moves into her place like a TikTok Tom Ripley, splicing herself into Madison’s free ride.
After those long-delayed credits, CW gets her sights on Jessica (Sara Canning), another travel vlogger who might just be a tougher cookie … then, a few ups and downs later, she copes with the arrival of Ryan, who is just as irritating and borderline abusive to a genuine psycho as he was to his regular girlfriend. Naud is the centre of the film – eventually emerging as the protagonist of a story which almost gets us on her side (really, that Ryan guy is a creep) and hoping that she’ll keep all the wheels of her complicated schemes spinning.
Harder, producer of What Keeps You Alive and director of Spiral (2019), knows he’s arriving at a crowded party and needs to play against expectations – all the jabs at selfie culture are there, but the fact that these influencers are also victims of the trap of their superficial appearance is stressed and a finale, which gets off the tourist track into something more like Scaramanga’s hideaway from The Man With the Golden Gun (or Crusoe’s island), suggests that it’s a mistake to write social media types off as butterflies. Some of them will be gone by the time Influencer 2 is on Shudder, but others are likely to be media presences for decades. Nice to see Paul Spurrier, director of the Thai ghost story P, in a cameo as the sort of seedy British ex-pat lone women wouldn’t want to be chatted to in a hotel bar by.