INFLUENCER, directed by Kurtis David Harder and written by Harder and Tesh Guttikonda, premiered at Brooklyn Horror Film Festival and follows a social media influencer, Madison (Emily Tennant), flying solo on a backpacking trip in Thailand. She has little enjoyment until she meets CW (Cassandra Naud), a carefree woman who shows Madison a good time, but the situation changes from fun to fearsome. Cassandra Naud gives a hypnotic performance and, combined with the rest of the cast and unexpected turns, makes INFLUENCER an entertaining cautionary tale.
Madison is a social media influencer who promotes brands. She is in Thailand for work but is despondent because she is alone. CW meets Madison at the hotel bar and invites her on a walk so Madison can get away from the elderly drunk British man bothering her. After the rescue, Madison trusts CW, and they travel around for Madison’s last few days in Thailand. The scenes of them drinking, dancing, hiking around, and petting elephants lull you into a false sense of security, but your still hold your breath now and again.
Though some people are camera adverse, when CW conceals her face, and the distinct birthmark on her left cheek, as Madison records, your internal warning system activates. While the excuse that she is not comfortable seems genuine, CW exudes confidence in every aspect. Someone breaks into Madison’s room and steals her passport, so she has to stay in Thailand for at least two more weeks. Luckily, CW is there to keep her company.
Suffice it to say, almost thirty minutes into the movie, we get the title, and CW is now living in Madison’s place without Madison. CW often recites that “no one cares,” which makes you wonder what happened to her in the past to believe no one misses someone when they disappear. Course things become complicated for CW when Ryan (Rory J. Saper), Madison’s boyfriend, shows up looking for Madison. Just when she found her new mark, Jessica (Sara Canning) maneuvers her to stay with her after someone (hmm) robs Jessica’s place.
The compelling nature of the film is the slow build-up as events grow more out of control. INFLUENCER shows the fake online persona but also how people like CW look down on social media influencers while wanting to reap the financial rewards. With software evolving, it is easier to take over someone’s entire online presence. That is chilling because many people’s lives and finances exist online. Matter of fact, most side-eye you if you do not have an online presence. Technology opens up new careers but can destroy lives.
Cassandra Naud is spectacular as CW. She is equal parts charming, capable, and odd. I love that women make up the primary cast, except for Ryan. Women can be dangerous, perhaps more so since most women feel a camaraderie toward other women. Few films show women as villains, and those usually have it as a lover-scorned scenario. Some shots stand out, showcasing the solitude or dread in a scene, and the underwater scenes will make you gasp. Kurtis David Harder does a fantastic job building the tension with beautiful yet dreadful angles.
The direction the film takes makes INFLUENCER memorable. It avoids falling into cliches. As events unfold, I was thankful it did not downgrade to a survivor story, a la Tom Hanks. INFLUENCER captures the obsession and danger of social media. The movie does not drag, with a lean pace of 90 minutes, and you cannot stop watching till the very end.