There’s a lot to like in this movie about “likes.”
Influencer. The word is enough to send shivers down your spine! These documentarians of carefully curated reality get a bad rap in horror movies. They’re portrayed as loud, vapid grifters whose narcissism can only be stopped by gory death. Of course, these characters have been reduced to their most unpleasant qualities, which have also been exaggerated for the sake of provoking revulsion in the audience. Ugh, that annoying influencer! I hope he gets axed! It’s easy to find a horror movie where the influencer is the villain, anti-hero, or schadenfreude victim. It’s rare to find a portrayal that doesn’t hinge on rote stereotypes.
But that’s exactly what Kurtis David Harder achieves in his new movie Influencer. Debuting to near-universal praise on Shudder last week, Influencer tells the tale of a vlogger named Madison (Emily Tennant) who travels to Thailand to seek adventure and find herself. At first, Madison displays all the obnoxious qualities that set influencer characters up for the ax in horror–taking too many pictures of her food, getting extra pose-y in front of historical sites, changing the octave of her voice when she records messages to her followers. But Harder tempers his social critiques with deep characterization. When Madison turns off her camera, we see her immediately sad. Her relationship is at its end, she has no real friends, and she lives in a massive villa all alone. She is privately trying to find the meaning she publicly claims to have found on her international journey.
Influencer is full of exciting twists.
This narrative strategy pays off in major ways as Harder leads us through a twist-filled tale grounded in fully-realized characters performed by a talented cast. Real-life expat Paul Spurrier plays Rupert The Expat, who spends his days at the bar dispensing a drunk uncle’s wisdom to lost souls. When Rupert begins flirting with Madison one evening, a friendly woman named CW (Cassandra Naud) intervenes. She whisks Madison away from Rupert and into the promise of the genuine adventure she has been seeking.
Together, they travel around Thailand, and CW shows her the sights and takes her to hidden gems that only locals know. A fellow solo traveler, CW seems completely in her element. She has a calming effect on Madison–an experience the audience shares thanks to a soothing soundtrack and the confidence Naud projects through her character. But just when things finally seem to be going Madison’s way, her villa gets broken into, and the whole story turns on its head.
Harder guides the narrative smoothly through several sharp turns and still finds ample room for character development and tying together loose ends. At one point, Madison says, “We are 100% in my story.” She’s right. Only it’s not the story any of us, including her, were expecting. There are just enough un-answered questions here to keep the suspense engaging as the situation devolves from picturesque paradise into desperation, survival, and deepfake horror.
The twists pay off, thanks to an excellent cast.
Harder juxtaposes the movie’s escalating violence against cinematographer David Schurrman’s soaring, idyllic visuals, and the end product is a tightly crafted story. It takes a talented cast to deliver this vision, and Influencer is full of emerging and established artists who can handle the job. As Madison, Emily Tennant presents the perfect image of someone desperate for authenticity. Rory J. Saper plays her boyfriend Ryan with great nuance, allowing his influencer-sized ego to unravel organically, and Sara Canning lends an air of smug gravitas to her character Jessica. But Cassandra Naud steals the show as CW, blending ambiguity and mystery with a quiet, mounting unease that amplifies the movie’s tense atmosphere.
Check out Influencer on Shudder now!