Recently, an Indian Youtuber and comedian reflected on how growing up in the 90s, their generation aspired to become astronauts and how, in today’s times, kids dream of becoming influencers. The idea of making it big on social media is extraordinarily tempting, and it has led to a major boom in content being produced these days, with people seriously giving their time to building an image online. Naturally, then, the new occupation finds its place in films with characters designed around the social media boom, reacting to its whims. A film centered around a character who is an influencer could be an interesting exploration of the ups and downs prevalent in life online, but director Kurtis David Harder barely scratches the surface in designing such a world. He is interested not so much in the headspace of an influencer but only in some situations that don’t really add up to say anything profound about the nature of social media. What it merely ends up becoming is a thriller that seems to be dragging even in its 90-minute runtime.
Madison is a social media star who has come to Thailand alone after getting ditched by her boyfriend at the last minute. Going around multiple tourist destinations and clicking pictures and videos of herself against the major landmarks, she meets CW, who promises to show her around. Harner involves some brief scenes that explore the differences in what we see on Instagram and how it is in real life. This is evident when we see Madison smiling the warmest in front of the camera and then going back to being melancholic after the click. The film is not interested in getting into that thematic exploration, as is made clear by the path it chooses to take.
The character of CW is backed by an unanswered obsession with stalking influencers and making them disappear. We constantly await an explanation for her story and her actions, but it is neither hinted at nor given any further consideration; due to this, anything that she does never quite mixes well with the themes and hence ends up becoming just an echo in the narrative. The filmmaking remains stuffed with templates and fails to open itself up to bring out the story in a better way. Starting with Madison as our protagonist, we shift to being closer to CW as the story reaches the end of its first act similar to Psycho by Hitchcock, with the protagonist getting killed. This is the time when the credits start to roll, and CW switches places with Madison, both in the story and as a character.
As a stylized thriller, Influencer ticks all the boxes of unexpected twists, ear-numbingly intense background music, occasional blood and gore, and some sexual titillation. Add to that a shower sequence and some party scenes that make a film like that complete. Meanwhile, there is a complete disconnect between the characters’ motivations and a sense of distrust for their beliefs. Madison’s boyfriend, who is introduced as an indifferent guy in the beginning, suddenly comes to her rescue in the second half out of nowhere. It is as if his conscience resurfaces after a few weeks without any reason. There are times in the film when decisions like these seem to have been made just to make the narrative run ahead without any organic stimulation to do so. Even the acting becomes just an action- reaction that goes on to further the template created in the story. The screenplay stretches no muscles to arrive at newer ways of looking at things or just create an overall satisfying sensory experience. It feels more mathematical than artistic with the mechanical way of storytelling that only tries to fit pieces into an already-made-up structure and never attempts to break out of that structure to reach a point of originality. Having done so, the underlying themes fail to pop out of their frames, and with each passing minute, that feels like an hour, you are further distanced from the characters.
What Kurtis David Harder needed was a compelling script that would bring out the multifaceted personalities of social media celebrities while riding on the waves of a thriller. There comes the point towards the end of the second act where things seem to be making some sense with certain flaky connections with the world online. Harder manages to bring forth the dangers that exist on social media, with reputations made and broken with just a matter of clicks. Will it make any difference to you if your favorite influencers just disappear one day? Or if their accounts continue to run smoothly by someone else and you wouldn’t know the difference? How many of the things that you see on social media are really true? These are some questions that Harder manages to think about, even though they never take shape into something that means anything to you. If all of that is not enough, we go into the backstory of how Madison met her boyfriend, and it doesn’t answer any new questions or open up fresh possibilities.
Following the antagonist for the majority of the film and not having even a fleeting glimpse into their background feels like an injustice. We are left to make our own stories about the character who has a big birthmark on one cheek. Apart from some vague dialogues that seem to be pointing towards something, you never get to know the wants and needs of the character. All of this makes no difference in the minds of anyone watching, as you are left with questions and more questions with no hope of them getting answered. Influencer neither promises to be an exciting film in the first twenty minutes nor does it become one by the last frame. It is just another film that fades into the endless clutter of thrillers getting made each year. By basing itself on the backdrop of social media, it ends up achieving the pretentious statue taken by many online, who, while wanting to sound brave, have nothing worthwhile to say.