A film made by an ambivalent digital native, Influencer sees through the all-too-common and frankly dull Gen X critique of social media influencers as an occupation emblematic of social decline or capitalistic excess (which is true, but nonetheless a tired critique). That’s not to say director Kurtis David Harder, who has enjoyed a quite successful career so far as a producer for only being 31, thinks of influencers as something of a best-case escape from the demanding capitalistic 9 to 5 work cycle. Harder, a digital native himself (31 counts, right?), along with his equally young co-writer Tesh Guttikonda, Influencer succeeds exactly where the digital immigrant critics stumble: to say something new.
The marketing premise pretty much sells the Shudder exclusive as a “hot social media influencer put in jeopardy during a dreamy workcation.” The description is technically true, I suppose, but it’s a lot like selling Jordan Peele’s Us (2019) as “one family meets another while on vacation.” Influencer is a well-cut and well-made thriller wrapped in the alluring guise of an influencer’s Thailand workcation. It doesn’t quite make hollow the question of an influencer’s rhetorical power; rather, it begs the question of whether such power even matters in the face of real-world predatory influence? What is real influence?
The gender dynamics of Influencer are unconventional for the genre. It would have been a completely different scenario had the two main characters been male-female or female-male. Instead, we get two, as far as we know, completely heterosexual women: the conventionally attractive blonde influencer Madison (Emily Tennant) and CW, played by the basically immaculate Cassandra Naud. CW has lived in Thailand for some time and has a house that could be featured on any home real-estate reality television show. She notices a creepy man disturbing Madison, who is traveling solo because her boyfriend/manager backed out at the last minute, and comes to intervene in the name of womanhood. CW, like the actor who plays her, has a large birthmark on her face that gives the actress a unique appearance, which the filmmakers and talent brilliantly leverage.
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