Written and directed by Kurtis David Harder, co-written by Tesh Guttikonda, while struggling on a solo backpacking trip in Thailand, social media influencer Madison meets CW, who travels with ease and shows her a more uninhibited way of living, but CW’s interest in her takes a darker turn. Starring: Cassandra Naud, Sara Canning, Emily Tennant, Rory J Saper, Paul Spurrier and Justin Sams.
When a story revolves around an influencer environment, it’s working against a stacked deck because it’s not an inherently relatable or sympathetic choice but it feels like Kurtis David Harder and Tesh Guttikonda knew that and used it to their advantage. They created an engrossing, clever and highly relevant plot that dives into how an abundance of social media and A.I. makes people intensely vulnerable. It sets that influencer tone with its opening: the content creation, the artificial happiness and materialism but doesn’t feel a need to rely on it past that. From then on it becomes a gripping thriller of one woman’s giant f*ck you to modern society and expectations.
It’s a delightful and satisfying surprise how brilliantly Harder and Guttikonda created the character of CW (Cassandra Naud). She’s a force to be reckoned with, one that most likely comes with a whole lot of emotional and traumatic baggage which we don’t get to learn but can feel its presence. It’s always a terrific thing when writers can construct a character who is quite clearly not a good person yet you can’t help but root for them anyway, and that’s what they bring to the table with CW. She’s a perfect lead to the story, she effortlessly holds your attention from start to finish.
Cassandra Naud brings her to life with a formidable strength, making her feel like one of those characters that could handle anything you could possibly throw at them. Naud makes her devilish, calculated and intelligent. What makes her performance phenomenal is that she also gives her vulnerability, nods to a murky past and deep loneliness. It’s a complex portrayal and one that’s very natural, there’s a slick confidence to how CW is both physically and mentally, while keeping you aware that she’s not infallible.
There’s also a great trio of Sara Canning, Emily Tennant and Rory J Saper behind her but Naud absolutely steals the show. Although Tennant gets in a couple of really great moments and Saper gets bonus points for how dislikeable he makes his character. Interestingly, he’s a character who could be interpreted a variety of ways by viewers, a woman’s and a man’s perspective could be highly contrasted.
It’s a great example of how Harder and Guttikonda have taken a woman’s viewpoint into account, which has never been a given in horror. Creating something that feels Gillian Flynn-esque with a bit of Ingrid Goes West thrown in. Especially when you’re looking at Harder’s directorial style, it’s sharp and plays into that sadistic and mysterious presence. It has such a thick atmosphere of dark potential, which is enhanced by being set against an inherently picturesque backdrop.
There’s something so fitting about malicious actions in a picture perfect location, which the cinematography (by David Schuurman) highlights terrifically. It has a great weight to it which really boosts the tension, something Influencer has a lot of. The pacing and progression are right where they need to be to keep that tension consistently throughout, it’s neither slow nor fast, neither simple nor overly complicated. All of which is topped with a score (by Avery Kentis) that beautifully sets off all of the film’s strengths, from the intensity to its devious nature.
Influencer is gripping, entertaining, dark and sadistic with just the right amount of violence and an excellent dose of tension. It keeps you glued to the screen from start to finish with a stellar leading character in CW and Cassandra Naud brings her to life perfectly. The direction is incredibly strong and plays undeniably in sync with the story, the stunning locations then deepen the darkness to its plot. It’s deceptively clever to set itself up with the expectation of the typical vapid, materialistic types associated with influencers, only to reveal itself to actually be a thrilling story of how easily social media can be our downfall.