Monday, July 24, 2023

Sissy's Spiritual Sister

There's probably a decent project that digs into the professions loved by the horror genre. While television thrives on the timeless possibilities of surgeons and detectives, horror films more closely adjust with the times: a slew of scientist characters in the '50s made monster stories make more sense, the fashion industry thrived on film in the '70s for the style, camp counselors had their day in the slasher boom. If you watched a lot of low budget found footage films ten years ago, you'd be forgiven for assuming ghost hunting was the most popular career for millennials. 

Obviously, this brings me to the most prevalent vocation in today's genre output: 

Quick Plot: Madison has a successful social media following doing that thing that photogenic young Gen-Z women do: selfies and hashtags. Though glamorous at first glance, it's a lonely, unfilling life. Madison is aware that focusing on filters has somehow limited her from actually experiencing the world, and her career-focused boyfriend Ryan certainly doesn't help. Things seem to hit bottom when her passport is stolen right out of her upscale resort safe.

Traveling solo in Thailand, Madison is considering giving it all up when she meets CW, a fellow North American on her own with better travel skills. Together, they enjoy Thai nightlife, delicious noodles, scenic hikes, and living in the moment...especially on remote, fauna-less islands.

That's all the pre-credits act of Influencer, a film I highly recommend and wouldn't want to spoil another moment of it if you haven't already gone past the 26 minute mark. Head to Shudder, watch on, and come back when you're done.

For those who followed instructions:

Obviously, CW isn't quite the friend to the end Madison needed. She's as empty morally as she believes influencers are emotionally. There's a vampiric quality to how CW slips into her victims' online personas, using advanced deepfake graphic and audio design to maintain followers while going through the motions. What exactly does she get out of it? 

It's not fully clear, but I didn't mind some of the film's more complex ambiguity. Cassandra Naud is a captivating onscreen presence who easily carries the movie. We as the audience build a bit of our own guesses as to CW's motivations: with a prominent facial birthmark, we assume she grew up under extremely different conditions than the perfectly packaged Madison and later, nearly interchangeable Jessica. Yet the script (by Tesh Guttikonda and co-written by director Kurtis David Harder) doesn't fill in any blanks, and it's a wise, intelligent decision. 

Influencer didn't quite thrill me with the similarly plotted Sissy, but it's a fine companion and easily one of the best thrillers to drill into its subject matter. I'll be extremely curious to see how it plays on second watch, specifically in terms of CW. 

High Points
There's a tiny minor character detail that helps to do so much to the dynamics of Influencer. Early on, we meet Paul Spurrier's Rupert, a thrice-divorced expat who unsuccessfully hits on Madison with the kind of confidence only a middle-aged white man of privilege can have. It's easy to think of characters like Madison and Jessica as vapid, but Rupert is the perfect reminder of what women of their type have to combat. Sure, it also serves the plot in introducing CW as the kind of cool chick who knows how to put these slobs back to their place, but I think Guittikonda and Harder's script knows that someone like this can give the audience (many of whom immediately bristle at the very idea of influencer culture) some wider perspective.

Low Points
While overall, the film's pacing and storytelling fully worked for me, I don't know that I fully embraced the midpoint time flashback time shift. It seems there to develop the film's least interesting character, and while it's probably needed considering how horrible Ryan seems in the film's first act, there's something about the film's momentum that breaks a bit.

Lessons Learned
The benefits of being divorced three times is that you can identify a broken heart

Never underestimate a former Girl Scout

Fake jade can still do serious damage

Hopefully if you've read this far, you've already seen Influencer but if not, do it. This isn't a perfect film, but much like director Kurtis David Harder's Spiral, it takes a solid genre foundation and layers it in more modern ways. Not surprisingly, it's a Shudder original. 


  1. I didn't love Influencer. I thought Rory J. Saper's acting as Ryan was stiff, and I was bothered by his zoom call with Madison where she was talking normally and he kept saying stuff like "I don't know why you're yelling at me" and "call me when you've calmed down." It was just too ham-handed an attempt to illustrate Ryan's character. Just a tad more subtlety would have gone a long way, IMO.

    But while I didn't LOVE Influencer, I did like it! I thought all the actors besides Saper were good, and after Madison was left on the island I found myself constantly trying to guess where the film was going, and frequently surprised.

    Oh wait, one last gripe: WHY WOULDN'T CW DISABLE THE BOAT ENGINE BEFORE WALKING AWAY FROM IT?? I think that was the biggest poor choice the film made. I want more smart choices in films, especially from the evil genius masterminds. Or maybe I'm just expecting too much from a Shudder Original, lol

    1. Totally fair. It's a shame when a character is drawn out so clearly as a badass genius, then makes a super silly mistake you see coming.

      And yes, I can agree on Saper. I thought the filmmaker was playing with our sympathy on him, establishing the guy as a pure empty jerk then forcing us to be on his team. That didn't fully work for me, and yes, the performance was likely part of it as well.