Updated: Oct 31
Shudder comes through again with an enjoyable, twisty, and WTF filled movie, Influencer, available now. What seems like a cautionary tale about the dangers of influencer culture turns into a twisty thriller that keeps you guessing until the end.
MOVIE OVERVIEW & INTRODUCTION
The movie Influencer, released on the horror focused streaming platform, Shudder, in 2022, takes us alongside a vacation gone awry. An influencer, named Madison played by Emily Tennant, is on a trip in Thailand originally meant for her and her boyfriend, Ryan played by Rory J. Saper, before he broke things off pre-trip. Luckily for her she meets a go-with-the-flow fellow English speaking tourist, named CW played by Cassandra Naud, that wants to show her a more laid back way of enjoying Thailand.
CW has a sweet house to stay in, knows what to do around the area and what places to go, she's even available after-hours to be there in crisis. After a meet-cute start to their relationship the two are instant friends, so much so that if this weren't on Shudder one might assume they would have a once in a lifetime vacation filled with lessons, growth, and healing. Unfortunately for Madison this is a horror movie, and she is ignoring every single red flag CW is waving in her face.
Generally, by the time most of us are adults we have learned the hard way that if something is too good to be true it probably is, Madison however is looking at the world through the luck of the influencer perspective. From the outside looking in it appears that influencers easily lose touch with their former reality (and sometimes reality in general) after gaining clout. Madison seems disillusioned with her life, missing the core pillars of fulfilling days, like non-transactional relationships and being present.
What appears to her clouded glance as a millennial's version of Eat, Prey, Love vacay philosophy by disconnecting with technology is actually an attempt to stay anonymous. What seems like reconnecting with nature on an island is actually a convenient place to kill and dump victims before stealing their identities. What Madison doesn't necessarily learn about CW's murderous ways she goes on to teach us: that it's not about the money and there is no length too far to protect oneself.
PLOT COMMENTARY W/ SPOILERS
Cassandra Naud as CW is a chameleon, sliding in and out of characters to suite her needs at any given moment. She can quickly turn on a child-like naivety to appeal to a woman more comfortable in a big sister role and then right back into a natural quiet confidence that commands respect when dealing with those that are looking to her for direction. She has a keen attention to detail that slowly unravels as the movie goes on and she finds herself in increasingly close calls with exposure.
At first the POV of the movie is through Madison's eyes, not being privy to CW's intentions or the danger she poses, and life happening to her rather than her happening to those around her. Madison looks to CW as a doorway to a fresh perspective and a new start, someone who can teach her about a new way of life. Heartbroken from her recent breakup Madison's guard is down when she meets the calm, cool, collected CW at a bar.
After spending time together for a few days CW is there when Madison's room is broken into and her passport stolen. CW offers Madison to stay with her while they work out getting her another passport, approximately two weeks. Overwhelmed by the circumstances Madison doesn't see the coincidence in timing of the events or any holes in CW's background or reasoning for being in Thailand.
With Madison's affairs squared away CW suggests they visit an island in the middle of the ocean to escape and disconnect. CW tells Madison she found this island by chance and spends a lot of time in the ocean, other than that we don't learn much about CW's past. We don't find out what happens for sure on the island aside from CW returning to the main island and Madison not.
POV of CW, the plot now following her as she assumes Madison's identity. Using a blonde wig, camera, and AI-like editing software she's able to transpose Madison's image onto new content. With this new content showing Madison enjoying her disconnection from social media in Thailand she can stave off suspicion while using Madison's credit cards to extend the stay at the luxurious beach house.
Just as soon as Madison's identity has been assumed CW is on the hunt again, showing that no encounters or victims have been by chance. CW has a bulletin board with photos that Madison's is added to, alluding to there being at least four other victims, all looking like Madison-bubbly, long-haired blonde women on the beach. The victim this time however is more attune to the red flags CW lets slip.
Things aren't going as smoothly as they had with Madison, and CW seems challenged but determined with her new victim, Jessica played by Sara Canning, who is more wary of a perfect stranger. Jessica questions CW and can piece together inconsistencies or oddities when talking to her but ultimately falls for adoration of her social media presence and lets CW closer. As suspected Jessica finds her hotel room having been broken into and needing a place to stay, to which CW gladly offers.
Unfortunately for CW Madison's boyfriend, Ryan, didn't take her texts and social media posts as good enough reason to stay away and has broken into the house, using Madison's credit card purchase history to find where she was and planning a surprise dinner to get her back. Upon running into one another in the house Madison and Ryan are both wary, Ryan not believing that Madison had trusted a total stranger enough to stay in a house she's renting and speak on her behalf.
Ryan and Jessica feed off one another's suspicions and grow increasingly weary of CW and the stories she's told them so far. At one point while the three are on a hike Jessica asks CW questions suspecting that CW has told both Ryan and Jessica different stories, which she has. CW trips up slightly on the questions and there is a tension filled back and forth between them. It's clear at this point that Jessica is at the very least onto CW and at the worst going to expose her.
At this point in the movie, we have switched POV's once and are headed for yet two more. The last two switches between characters we experienced got increasingly unexpected and at the point where CW and Ryan are left in the beach villa, I figured the movie had reached a natural end only to find out we'd only had a turning point. I won't say much more about the plot to keep some of the best twists a mystery.
AUDIENCE RECEPTION & MY THOUGHTS
Recently I've noticed more experimenting in horror with plots and less common story lines. Rather than trying to find the most unexpected they happen upon the unexpected unexpectedly and transition the story with fluidity. Rather than having a jump-scare sprinkled plot the scares build with tension and an overall sense of discomfort.
With that experimentation we get some gems, like Influencer, that are as deep as the ocean the characters willingly follow one another across. Speaking of which, one moment that stood out to me happened after the first POV switch when we see CW’s process for finding and stalking her eventual victims. Unlike Madison and her relationship woes this woman is more mature, established, and street smart, even hesitant to get to know CW…until CW mentions she’s a fan of her Instagram account.
The moments between these two women juxtaposed to CW when she interacts with other characters is a highlight of Naud’s amazing performance. She can make subtle changes in her delivery that display how manipulating, skilled, and intelligent CW is.
To appeal to Madison, she’s closer to her natural self, bold and confident with more masculine hairstyles, outfits, and mannerisms. To appeal to Jessica CW becomes softer, stealing Madison’s clothes, using a higher pitched voice, and trying to seem as naïve and innocent as possible. The way Naud and the wardrobe, makeup, and hair people can make the subtle shifts so well and even use them as a plot point in her interactions with Ryan, the male addition, left me in awe.
Currently Influencer has a Shudder rating of 4.1/5, an IMDb rating of 6.1/10, and a staggering 92% Tomatometer on Rotten Tomatoes. With an audience score of 72% on Rotten Tomatoes it’s safe to say that most are impressed. Some however, as expected are not as stoked about it, one reviewer writing “How is this movie getting good ratings? So predictable it is not thrilling, not a mystery and not a horror movie,” with a rating of a ½ of a star.
Personally, I would give this movie a 4/5, I believe the performances by all the actors and especially Naud push this movie past issues one might have with setting, plot, or script. On top of those good performances the plot itself is interesting, surprising, and going in blind had me shook more than a few times about what direction we would head toward.