From Gwyneth Paltrow selling her vagina-scented candle that retails for a cool $70 to the Kardashians’ variety of extremely lucrative deals, influencer culture has taken over the Internet. The nature of influencer marketing isn’t new, however; popular figures have been brand “faces” for years — after all, when Regina George wears army pants and flip-flops, you’d better wear army pants and flip-flops. But as the always-online generation comes of age, more and more people are making their income by posting selfies on Instagram and dancing on TikTok. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with monetizing your own image, there’s a certain amount of self-centeredness that comes with it, a need to establish and communicate a unique identity that would have followers believe you are “special.” So when an influencer expresses exhaustion or implies they have it worse than others because of their followers’ expectations, it’s more than a little hard to muster much sympathy.
Madison, the central character in Kurtis David Harder’s Influencer, is one of these people. To the online eye, she is solo backpacking around the world, currently located in Thailand where she’s meeting locals and getting the full experience of the foreign country. In reality, she’s barely leaving her resort and hasn’t talked to anyone. One night, she visits a local bar and gets hit on by a fellow traveler, before CW (Cassandra Naud) intervenes and rescues her from the slimy interaction. Later, Madison’s suite gets broken into and her passport stolen, and she befriends CW as she waits for new identification so that she can go home. But predictably, CW isn’t who she seems, and eventually she takes Madison on a surprise getaway to a deserted island where she promptly leaves her for dead. Through the use of some advanced tech, CW then begins to impersonate Madison online so that none of her followers know she’s gone, before moving on to her next target. Much to CW’s chagrin, Madison’s boyfriend, Ryan (Rory J. Saper), shows up to investigate the situation, and predictable chaos ensues from there.
It’s precisely this predictability that is most unfortunate about Influencer, as the film attempts to live up to its thriller status but ends up spoon-feeding the audience and telegraphing every “twist.” It’s hard to overlook the plot conveniences — CW burns Madison’s belongings except her diary, which Ryan finds and uses to confirm his suspicions, for example, or cell service being spotty in exactly the right locations. The film then culminates in an underwater knife fight, the premise of which seems fun, but it’s so poorly choreographed and shot in such a haphazard way that any intended dramatic effect or kinetic pleasure is lost. And to make matters worse, it never becomes clear if Harder is attempting to critique influencer culture or those who demonize it, which results in a disjointed film that isn’t successful in either regard. If the point was to show how Instagram and the like have ruined our society — they have, to be clear — Harder is much more of a Cady Heron than a Janis Ian — confused and oblivious.
You can currently stream Influencer on Shudder.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 21.