This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the films being covered here wouldn't exist.
by Philip Price
Director: Kurtis David Harder
Starring: Emily Tennant, Rory J Spear & Cassandra Naud
Rated: Not Rated (Nudity, Violence & Language)
Runtime: 1 hour & 32 minutes
As vapid as the title might suggest this is, “Influencer” is actually one of the better (if not the best) horror/thriller I've seen this year. Like so many films these days this isn't necessarily presenting us with anything new, but what it's doing it's doing at a really high level. I love a movie that's smarter than it knows you're going to assume it is based on exterior factors and “Influencer” almost certainly takes advantage of its Shudder distribution, no marquee cast, and derisive title as each contributes to a certain kind of trashy B-movie perception that makes the fact this is actually a smart, twisty take on the role of social media not just in our lives but in the world at large all the better as said commentary is much more astute than it is mocking; never losing itself in its sermon, but instead letting the character choices and tone speak for themselves.
Not only does director Kurtis David Harder (who also co-wrote the movie with Tesh Guttikonda) take advantage of the preconceived notions around his film, but he then steps it up further to convince us we're watching something made with real intent and awareness of style (as well as some vast knowledge of the genre) by managing to have his film aesthetically look like the staged, phony world presented via Instagram while also coming off as a credible feature film with purpose. Further, (and this is when I really knew we were in good hands) Harder drops the title card for his film thirty minutes into the runtime. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but the placement within the story and the way it combines with the soundtrack to kind of deftly say to the audience, "Okay, let's really get going now..." not only enhances the pacing but revives interest in where the narrative could possibly go given the end of the first act feels rather finite. The fact the very next scene follows the character I didn't expect us to stick with told me all I needed to know about what might happen over the next hour and that was that I didn't know anything at all.
And while the second act of the film is saddled with a lot of explaining this execution is also cleverly handled as it works both in harmony as well as in contrast with the events of the first act. Employing tricks of the trade to manipulate the tone of a procedure we've already seen work successfully to then feel more menacing is not a new trick of the trade in and of itself, but it is especially effective in this instance given the flexibility of Cassandra Naud's CW who seems to only know how to interact with people by scanning them upon meeting them and figuring out what type of person they want in their life and then immediately becoming that person. This of course makes Naud's performance a barn burner as she alternates between identities depending on her audience, but more so it serves as the - if not exactly subtle - very savvy commentary concerning how social media has enhanced and distorted the tendencies already inherent in human interaction.
By the final half hour of the film, things have gone so awry for each character in such unexpected fashions that it's genuinely hard to say where the film might land regarding each of the arcs in play which (naturally) continues to make it exciting. The boyfriend role (Rory J Saper) is the weak link of the movie in terms of both performance and subtext, which is tough considering he factors into the final act quite heavily, but there is an interesting transformation taking place even if Saper isn't compelling enough to fully land the plane on why. Moreover, the underlying yet most distinct theme in “Influencer” is that of loneliness. The film doesn't revolve around this idea meaning it doesn't have long, lingering shots of characters sitting alone staring at their screens so as to inspire contemplations of what they present to the world versus how they truly feel, but it does investigate how easy it is to become the person your acquaintances would like in their life and therefore how easy it is to become lost without someone to guide you; to base your personality off of.