Influencer (2023) is a Sharp Satire of Social Media with Plenty of Twists and Subversions
First Non-Festival Release: May 18, 2023 (Theaters)
Director: Kurtis David Harder
Writer: Tesh Guttikonda, Kurtis David Harder
Runtime: 92 Minutes
Starring: Emily Tennant, Rory J Saper, Cassandra Naud
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Social media can often be a place where people hide behind fabricated versions of who they really are. When life experiences are curated in a manufactured manner, it’s easy to get disillusioned by it.
Successful social media influencer Madison (Emily Tennant) is sleepwalking through her paid vacation to Thailand, after her boyfriend abandoned her days before the trip was meant to start, when she meets CW (Cassandra Naud). CW is a wandering traveler who shows her the spontaneous side of life abroad and give Madison tips o living freely. Unfortunately, she has some secrets that may be too dangerous to experience.
Smart, subversive, and exciting, Influencer is a fantastic edition to the social media horror cannon.
One of the most refreshing aspects of Influencer is how it plays against expectations of the social media obsessed. While there is plenty to dissect on the harmful aspects of influencer culture, there seems to be a trend in media of depicting those who make a living off social media as inherently bad. In Influencer, the audience finds these people initially grating but once they get to know them, their personalities shine through whatever façade they have created. Madison even laments aspects of her job in grounded yet emotional ways. All she wanted to do was spend a vacation in one of the most beautiful places in the world with her boyfriend, who isn’t there. That hardly rings true for the validation obsessed sociopath many would like to see her be.
Clever character work showcases the humanity in social media how identity shapes the major players in Influencer. While it would be easy to peg Madison, Jessica, and Ryan as vain, fame-obsessed dullards, Influencer knows that real people are more exciting than the stereotypes created in our heads. There is a bite to Jessica, a softness to Ryan, and a resilience to Madison that make each of them more grounded than typical portrayals of content creators.
CW on the other hand, is so fascinating because of how competently inept she is at this. Each person that interacts with her has their doubts. They persist because they want to do the human thing and be friendly to a person that seems to need company. What separates CW’s victims from her survivors is their ability to pick up on those odd quirks or feelings and act on them. She isn’t as clever as she thinks. She’s just weird, and in a way, endearing to someone whose industry relies on them being approachable.
The boundary between personal identity and technology has terrifyingly merged closer over the years. Once Madison is disposed of on the island, CW takes no time in stepping into her shoes. Anyone could do it and no one would miss Madison, right? For a few weeks, it is easy to pull off. With some strategic camera angles and sharp impressions of her diction, CW is able to fool Madison’s following into believing she continued the trip without any issues. CW learns, however, that Madison isn’t so easy to shake. She must play it cool by creating more elaborate stories, using more advanced technology, and finding ways to prevent the ever-growing pool of people from considering the possibility she had something to do with her disappearance. With the rise of artificial intelligence and the creation of many useful yet ultimately terrifying pieces of technology, the aspects of Influencer that showcase how easy it can be to take on one’s digital persona is a relatable and realistic fear.
Influencer wouldn’t work without each actor nailing the complexities afforded to their character by the excellent writing. Emily Tennant and Sara Canning each take a different route with their characters but embody two successful women who have appropriate depth beyond their curated Instagram profiles. Tennant plays Madison with a bit of trepidation and self-doubt, as she is deciding if this career even is for her while Canning leans full into the alpha female businesswoman archetype. Both find different reasons to be endeared by CW: Madison for her free-spirit and Jessica for her dear-in-the-headlights routine. CW offers up a false ideal of what Madison believes she wants and she reminds Jessica of who she may used to be, or at least what many of her fans are currently. Rory J Saper brings depth to a character that, again, would normally get shafted in the writing process. Pealing back the layers of Ryan, Saper showcases a genuinely distraught and caring man behind his party boy veneer.
While the cast does fantastic, Cassandra Naud takes it to the next level with her portrayal of CW. It’s hard to predict what she will do at any given moment, but Naud imbues every look and gesture with a subtle predation that makes her screen presence simply captivating. Like a chameleon, Naud plays CW as whoever CW needs her to be flexing between naïve, domineering, spiteful, and above-it-all. CW is meant to be everything and nothing at once, because she hasn’t found herself in the way her prey has. And that infuriates her more than anything.
With all these factors coming together, Influencer revels in its twisty journey knowing full well that the audience’s expectations will be met in some ways but not others. Playing to the audience regularly, Influencer knows that the audience is aware of CW’s sketchiness. So as the remainder of the film plays out, her tactics become more identifiable, and moments of tension build from her potential discovery. What more is she going to do to keep up her hoax?
Influencer is primed to be one of the best major streaming release films of the year. With its wickedly fun premise, talented cast, and delightfully twisted third act, there is much to love here. Producing some of the finest social media commentary in the last few years, Influencer is likely to remain a witty and long-staying cultural remnant of the age of the content creator.
Overall Score? 8/10