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Release Date: 05/26/23 [Shudder]
Genre: Horror. Mystery. Thriller.

Studio: Shudder

"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." 


Influencer is yet another terrific addition to the Shudder library, and it showcases powerful direction from Kurtis David Harder. Its storytelling shifts protagonists but doesn’t lose sight of the plot, and it creates a tense experience worth watching.


The twisting nature of Influencer is easily the most spectacular part of the film. It’s where every element coalesces together into something new and interesting and tense - where the performances, editing, cinematography, and screenplay have to shift tone and style completely to convey a new story to the audience. To that end, it’s the place any review should start.

Influencer has approximately three perspective shifts throughout its 90 minute runtime, and with each shift, the genre of the film changes completely. It starts with Madison (Emily Tennant), an influencer on vacation in Thailand on her own, as she navigates the isolating, two-faced life of being an influencer. In front of the camera, it's a vacation like no other, with a new culture to get immersed in and various landmarks to explore. But when the camera turns off, Thailand becomes a lonely wasteland. Madison’s boyfriend had to bail on the trip last minute, and the hotel she stays at has a less than lively community. It’s a story you’ve seen a million times, and of course, when the mysterious CW (Cassandra Naud) appears to save Madison from a creep at the hotel bar, the audience is primed for her to be a secret plot twist villain in a shudder horror film. And then, 20 minutes into the film, CW takes a willing Madison to an isolated, off the grid island, and tells Madison that she will leave her in the middle of the night, and steal the identity of Madison, the influencer. And suddenly, the story shifts away from Madison, a lonely influencer, to CW, a serial identity thief.


That twist forms the bedrock for the second half of the film, as CW stalks Jessica while navigating Madison’s overprotective ex-boyfriend Ryan (Rory J. Saper). Cassandra Naud steals the spotlight, as a chameleon character. The true personality of CW shines through the facade when CW is alone, and Naud lets her calculating, cold side take the spotlight in these moments. When CW is weaving a web of lies, Naud leans into the persona that CW needs, and only when those webs snap under the tension does Naud allow her darker, angrier side to come out. It’s a perfect performance for this film, engrossing the audience at every moment.


While the remaining cast have much simpler characters, their performances still manage to capture the essence of their characters and be completely believable. Saper injects charisma into Ryan, making his misguided pursuits seem to come from a nobel place. Tennant leans into the loneliness of Madison, and it works for this film, though it doesn’t do much more than create a sympathetic prey for our villain. It's the cost of creating a unique, twisting story.


The sound mixing, score, and cinematography all work together to make these protagonist shifts work. Whether it’s David Schuurman’s cinematography becoming much more static and focused as the film becomes an investigative thriller a la David Fincher, or the much more lively, chaotic camera of Madison's nights with CW, these tonal shifts are communicated through the medium in every way. Avery Kentis’ score drives the tension during the cat-and-mouse second act, building and building to its climax.


The only major weakness of Influencer is its story and how it develops its themes. While an ambiguous ending can bring the controlling idea into sharp focus, as seen in Christopher Nolan’s Inception or The Dark Knight, most often these types of endings can confuse the audience and muddy its message. Sadly, Influencer falls into the second bucket. It has a fourth act reveal that completely changes what this movie is, and while it is satisfying from a plot perspective, it makes the film's themes on influencer culture and the influencer career extremely unclear. And while this wouldn’t be a big deal in most cases, since it resolves the plot effectively, it’s made odd due to the abundance of monologues throughout the film that are centered on this theme of influencers being disposable. Those monologues create a thematic message that is undercut in the finale, and the ambiguous nature of this film's ending leaves the audience trying to piece together what meaning is behind this film.


Outside of that issue is a thriller that twists, turns and engages the audience viscerally for 92 minutes effortlessly. It rings dry all the dramatic power of each scene and storytelling beat, and just when it starts to feel cliche, when you think you know how the story will go, Influencer twists in on itself and transforms into a much more niche, interesting movie. I highly recommend this picture for anyone who has a subscription to Shudder.

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