“Cassandra Naud steals the show in Influencer, the new sharply focused, deadly funny thriller from director Kurtis David Harder.”
Cassandra Naud’s star-making lead performance
A subversive, unpredictable script
A shocking, game-changing twist in the first act
A third act that gets a little too convoluted for its own good
An underdeveloped romantic subplot
Influencers is not what you think it is. The new Shudder exclusive from director and co-writer Kurtis David Harder is a gritty, gritty thriller that takes the perverse slasher formula of a Brian De Palma classic that Dressed to kill and updating it for our current social media age. The result is a film as gritty and vicious as its influences, but far more interestingly structured and sharply focused than its all-too-familiar trip-abroad-gone-wrong premise might lead you to believe.
Anchored by a fascinating, potentially star-making performance, Influencers may not make as many new points about the unspoken artificiality of a social media star’s life, but it consistently subverts viewers’ expectations in ways that are often exciting to witness. What is even more impressive is how the film’s various twists and turns – of which there are many – are presented. InfluencersThe story doesn’t accelerate or pick up much as it gradually unfolds.
Over its 91-minute running time, the film slowly but surely sinks viewers deeper and deeper beneath the layers of deception, impersonation and, of course, murder. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise when the film’s third act features an underwater brawl that feels like an inevitable beat for a thriller as murky and dangerous as Influencers.
While the film leaves the actual identity of its eponymous “influencer” up to interpretation, the plot, for all intents and purposes, revolves around Madison (Emily Tennant), a successful but lonely social media star. When Influencers begins, Madison is in the middle of an unfulfilling, isolated trip to Thailand that she was convinced to take by her ambitious, social media-obsessed boyfriend, Ryan (Rory J. Saper). Her trip seemingly takes a turn for the better when she crosses paths one night with CW (Cassandra Naud), a mysterious girl who offers to show her some alternatives to the tourist traps that have consumed most of her trip.
It shouldn’t be considered a spoiler to say that the CW’s interest in Madison isn’t nearly as pure as she makes it out to be. To say much more about where Influencers going from there, however, would spoil one of the best aspects of the thriller, which derives most of its entertainment value from its unpredictable story and structure. First, Influencers may not seem all that unconventional or daring, but that starts to change when the credits finally roll around the film’s 26-minute mark.
An unexpected twist in the first act plunges you headfirst into the film’s twist-laden middle section, which grows increasingly complex, convoluted and deadly the further into its own web of lies. Influencers sheep. By the time Sapers Ryan shows up in Thailand looking to make things right with Madison, the film’s script by Harder and Tesh Guttikonda has already set up plenty of opportunities for bloodshed. While Influencers is definitely not afraid to confront the violence that abounds beneath the surface of the story, the film usually arrives at its physical confrontations in ways that are either shocking, tragic, or an acidic mix of both.
At the center of all the film’s twists and turns is Naud’s CW, who plays a more active role in Influencershis story than any of the other characters. With the weight of this responsibility on his shoulders, Naud gives a seductive, scene-stealing performance as CW, a character whose unpredictability injects Influencers with a much-needed dose of danger. Harder, for his part, wisely lets in several key moments Influencers play out completely in Naud’s face. The actress, for her part, makes watching The CW impulsively react to certain shocking developments as entertaining as watching her execute one of her carefully calibrated plans.
Whether Naud gets the chance to take on more leading roles in the future will likely depend on how much attention he receives Influencers gets, but the actress certainly proves capable of handling even the most ambiguous characters here. Her performance enhances both the atmosphere and the murkyness at the center of Influencersits Russian puppet narrative, which helps make up for the fact that the film doesn’t take the ideas of the falsity of one’s online identity as far as it could.
Harder and Guttikonda pack some cutting jabs at the ways a person’s online following can both inflate their ego and help them avoid life’s loneliness. On the other hand, Influencers ultimately doesn’t have much to say about the toxicity of those who can’t turn off their phones or those who resent them for their online addiction. That is made clear by the film’s convoluted third act, which is much like the rest of the Influencersgenuinely surprising, but also a bit too neat and sweet for its own good.
What Influencers what it lacks in thematic depth it more than makes up for in pure entertainment value. The film is a surprising, delightfully subversive thriller that is best seen with as little prior knowledge of the plot as possible. There’s more going on in it than meets the eye, which is fitting for a film that’s solely interested in what might be lurking just outside the edges of each of its characters’ carefully cropped Instagram posts.
Influencers is now available to stream exclusively on Shudder.
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