Influencer is the newest, hottest, and most hyped term of the last several years. Meaning many things to many people, including those that self-identify as influencers. For the rest of us it’s met with derision, disgust, and discounted as a cynical millennial side-hustle. All these things, and more, are modern truisms that we’ve all unwittingly had to learn about.
Influencer in the form of horror is a 2023 social media horror film that tackles many of our collective questions and distaste for this popular vocation. The film, directed by Kurtis David Harder (Spiral) wonderfully tackles the rise of this popular form, as well as its obvious facade and phoniness.
The film follows a perfectly coiffed youngster, Madison (Emily Tennant), galavanting her way through the most spectacular sights in Thailand while offering the most insipid and banal advice to her followers. What’s clear is that her chosen path is thin, unrewarding, and lonely. She’s disconnected from her followers, and she’s as lonely as a human can be.
Director Kurtis David Harder sets many a scene with exceptionally exquisite shots, mind-numbing locations, and glorious drone footage. If the Thai tourism bureau didn’t pay him for this travelogue they really should kick him a couple bucks.
Emily’s continued search for the most unauthentic and deeply westernized experience trundles on as she encounters another westerner, CW (Cassandra Naud) who seems deeply keen on hearing all about her travels. CW miraculously, and somewhat suspiciously, has digs in Thailand, takes her on a series of authentic and too-good-to-be-true adventures.
Unlike Ted Lasso’s ego-less kindness, CW’s kindness comes from a position of hatred and the ability to embrace her inner sociopath. She’s off. But not too off. Just enough to make one stop and question her real motives. Except for Madison that is. Madison, who’s in a disconnected fit of social media loneliness, fully Embraces CW’s offerings.
By playing with themes of “never look a gift horse in the mouth” and “buyer beware”, Kurtis David Harder is able to paint the perfect picture of the blinding effects of greed, vanity, and stupidity. Most importantly, the film makes clear that there is no landing strip for influencers. There’s no end goal. It just keeps going. The followers accumulate, until they don’t.
CW preys on Madison’s vanity and eventually traps her on an island of her own making. But in an interesting social media twist, it’s not Madison’s followers that come looking for her, it’s her dunderheaded boyfriend, Ryan (Rory J Saper), that comes to her rescue. Kurtis David Harder also makes rather clear that the followers are as disconnected and disinterested as one would imagine. They blindly wallow from one pretty picture of Thailand to the next, and they have little concern for Madison’s whereabouts or her safety.
Where Influencer becomes a tad muddled is in explaining and developing CW’s character motives and her backstory. It’s clear she hates influencers and she has the technological skills to take them down, but what’s unclear is where this hatred is born. It’s one thing to be a sociopath, it’s a whole other thing to deftly target influencers and bring them groveling to their knees.
Kurtis David Harder has a great eye for horror. His previous film, Spiral, also touches on many emerging social issues with aplomb. While Influencer is a pretty film to look at, it’s an undercooked story that may have an unintended allegory to the role of influencers in our modern day existence. Too much flash and too little substance.
Influencer is a light R or a hard PG-13 and currently streaming on Shudder.