Influencer is a masterclass in subversion, which hit Shudder Thursday, May 25th. The latest by producer/director Kurtis David Harder is as expected the story of an influencer, but not in the way you’d probably expect. By chance, the bright eyed, blond influencer Madison (Emily Tennant) ends up on vacation alone in the Instagram hotspot Thailand at a luxury resort after her boyfriend can’t make it. While there she meets another young woman, CW (Cassandra Naud), also alone, who offers to show Madison around since she has been in Thailand for sometime now. Unbeknownst to Madison, CW’s MO is to hunt female influencers via social media and strand them on a remote island while she bleeds their bank accounts and clout dry for her own amusement. In a rather bleak observation on influencer culture, CW confesses to Madison, before leaving her, that she has gotten away with this so far because these influencers are disposable.
For those worried about spoilers, this all happens pre-title card and is the setup for the film we are about to see.
The minute we see CW, she has villain written all over her character. The camera-shy woman with dark hair and a prominent facial birthmark is the polar opposite to those she’s stalking and has plenty to gain, but this is where the film gets interesting. Most films would have left us on that island with Madison, witnessing her noble struggle to not only survive but make her way back to the mainland in some miraculous way. Instead, we are paired with CW as she lines up her next target; she ruminates on her latest victim while she pilfers Madison’s bank accounts, reading her social media and diary, consuming Madison’s life as she would a novel. It’s through this CW begins to discover Madison, unlike the others, wasn’t actually a bad person. And you can see some pings of guilt/regret as CW begins the cycle all over again with Jessica (Sara Canning) — that is, until Madison’s boyfriend shows up at the plush oceanfront condo CW is renting in her name with her money.
From here Influencer delivers a rock solid Hitchcockian thriller against the picturesque backdrop of Thailand that toys with expectations up until its final moments. Like Psycho, it’s hard to know what’s coming after the film’s opening credits. Kurtis David Harder surprisingly manages to do this all while also commenting on social media and influencer culture without coming off as too preachy or heavy-handed with a perfectly embedded subtext. This is thanks to a committed cast with Cassandra Naud as the clear MVP. While we don’t get an exposition dump on the why and how she started targeting female influencers, it’s there in the nuances of her performance. She manages to be equally sympathetic and sociopathic sometimes in the same scene. Influencer is an intoxicating journey into one woman’s jealousy, and the lengths some would go for clout.