While social media is a relatively new creation in the grand scheme of modern technology, it has already fundamentally changed many of its users’ lives. It’s no secret that many people will save nothing but the very best for their followers. Regardless of whatever an individual may be going through internally, social media is a way to funnel everything else out and craft a carefully curated persona. If that’s what everybody sees on a regular basis, would they not start to believe that’s all there is to be said about their favorite influencer? Director Kurtis David Harder’s latest film Influencer, which is celebrating its World Premiere at the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, is a devious look at this new “fact” of life. In this burgeoning era of filters, misinformation, and the ability to fully craft our own stories for the world to see, the age old saying “seeing is believing” no longer seems to hold true.
The film opens up on Madison, an Instagram influencer taking part in a sponsored vacation in Thailand. The resort she is staying at could not be more beautiful, but it seems to be deserted, and the loneliness is clearly having an effect on Madison. As far as her loyal followers are concerned, it is the vacation of a lifetime. But, one can only eat so many room service meals and take so many poolside sponsored selfies alone before the scary truth starts to settle in. Very quickly, Influencer makes its stance on social media abundantly clear, and Madison emerges as the vessel through which it is conveyed. It isn’t until she meets CW, played by the wickedly talented Cassandra Naud, that her trip seems to finally take a turn for the better. Upon exploring the actual locale of Thailand, shot on location beautifully by Director of Photography David Schuurman, it seems as though Madison is grappling with something. The two women share authentic meals and drinks with strangers while discussing Madison’s online presence versus CW’s lack of one. As we learn more about our two lead characters, the title card of Influencer drops in, and the film takes a sinister turn that doesn’t shy away from hiding just how fun, but also terrifying, a film like this can be. Madison tells CW, “We are 100% in my story”; unfortunately for her, it’s just not the genre she thinks it is.
In 90 minutes, Influencer takes audiences on a cinematic ride full of sharp twists and turns. It’s a genuinely effective thriller that capitalizes on the fact that almost all audiences will be able to relate to it in some way. Simply put, social media has dug its roots deeply into a major portion of the world, and no matter how well we try to shelter ourselves from it, it will inevitably make its way to our eyes. This film is acutely aware of this terrifying reality, and what follows is a tense thriller, anchored by the performance of Naud. Without revealing too much about the film, Naud is able to sink her teeth into a character that any fan of horror or thrillers will adore. Her role as CW is one that requires a considerable amount of tonal and emotional shifts, some occurring within the blink of an eye. This multifaceted performance, aside from being strictly impressive as far as raw talent goes, also lends itself incredibly well to the theme of the film. If Influencer hopes to make anything crystal clear to its viewer, it is that unfortunately, the truth is now just as malleable as anything else in this world. This obviously is not the case on a fundamental level, but within the realm of social media, a lie can easily take on a life of its own.
Influencer efficiently and ominously addresses the notion of honesty on social media platforms in a deeply clever way. There is obviously a sociopathic antagonist for the crowd to cower from. Yet, as is the case of any horror that genuinely understands the genre, the terror goes far beyond any villain. Instead, this film shines a light on not only what makes the villain tick, but also on what makes our heroes tick. It doesn’t necessarily seek to criticize the actions of Madison, or any influencer really but, instead, highlight that they too may be victims of the true evil in all of our lives: the yearning for validation in the form of likes and followers, who live in those addictive icons on our smartphones.
Influencer is expected to release in early 2023. Head here for more information on the film and the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.