Saturday, June 3, 2023

Review: Influencer (Kurtis David Harder, 2022)

       Madison (Emily Tennant) never has her phone far away in Influencer (Kurtis David Harder, 2022)

I've never been to Thailand, but Influencer (2022) definitely made this beautiful place seem extremely tempting.  Bangkok streets, winding roads, jungle, and deserted beaches glimmer under the sun in this well-crafted and sumptuous film.  Pre-credits sequence, viewers get a hint of what's to come, as the camera zooms overhead, supplying viewers with an aerial image of a body, seemingly female (but it's ambiguous) lying face first on a deserted beach.  With that little teaser, the film cuts to Madison (Emily Tennant) as a young woman "influencer" on a trip to Thailand, recording every moment with selfies, and video streams of her adventures.  She seems to be on her own, as her boyfriend Ryan has ditched her at the last minute.  She's lonely and a little bit bored, filling her time with getting her picture taken at local hotspots, and recording testimonials for products she's compelled to shill.   

Still, the places at which she stays are gorgeous--truly gorgeous!  The hotel she stays at is luxurious and appears to provide every possible comfort.  An apartment that she rents is a modernist showpiece, perched on a hill with its own infinity pool.  The film implies that she is making bank as an influencer, but in some ways, her lifestyle seems hollow.  Pretty on the outside, by but empty and shallow on the inside.  At one point, she gets hit on by an older gentleman at the hotel bar.  He seems relatively harmless, but still annoying, and when another young woman staying at the hotel watches her exchange, she quickly asks Madison if she feels like "a walk"--promptly rescuing her from the older man's attentions.  Madison's savior is CW, a sultry brunette who carries herself with ease around Thailand; a birthmark under her right eye only enhances her unique beauty.  CW (Cassandra Naud) and Madison quickly become inseparable, and when Madison's hotel room is broken into, her passport and identification stolen, CW quickly takes the impressionable influencer under her wing.

                            CW (Cassandra Naud) is the main reason to watch Influencer

While Emily Tennant's Madison does a commendable job bringing viewers into the story, Naud's CW is what kept me riveted to the film's last moments.  Things might get a little spoiler-y from here on out...just a warning. Rooting for the villain in a horror film is not really groundbreaking, as the love of Freddie, Jason, and Michael Myers suggests, and enjoying the demise of really unlikeable characters is often par for the course.  One of my favorite villain-loving films is Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Scott Glosserman's 2006 slasher satire focusing on rising slasher-in-the-making Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel).  Baesel makes this deadly killer so unfailingly likeable, that you want him to get away with everything!!  If you haven't seen the film, Robert Englund (Freddy Kreuger) plays wonderfully against type as the "Ahab" chasing Vernon's whale.  Delightful.  Cassandra Naud's CW is equally entrancing, and as the film shifts to following her character, I weirdly did not find her as morally questionable as I should.

A couple of highlights the film brings to the fore: CW quickly encounters a new influencer, Jessica (Sara Canning), who is a little less trusting than Madison; and Ryan (Rory J. Saper), Madison's a-hole boyfriend, makes a surprise visit, looking to hook up with his cash cow, as Madison's "influencing" is something he "manages" for her.  Eye roll.  Heavy sigh.  CW handles these two with aplomb, involving a stiletto heel and a small motorboat.  Let me leave it at that...Honestly, I could have watched CW wandering around Thailand for another hour.  

                                           Madison and CW take a trip to a deserted island

As the film draws to a close, I was really worried as to how Harder was going to end things.  I could think of a couple of really lame endings immediately.  While I wouldn't say that the film's conclusion is wildly unpredictable, I do think it's pretty satisfying, and even draws a smile from CW in the end.  Influencer is streaming now on Shudder in the U.S.  I highly recommend it!