Director Timur Bekmambetov uses the increasingly popular gimmick of setting his new movie Profile as if we are looking at the protagonist’s computer screen the entire time. This style of filmmaking seemed to be made popular by the effective horror movie Unfriended (from Bekmambetov) and was used well with 2018’s John Cho-led Searching (Bekmambetov also produced this one). At some point, it becomes a tired vehicle in which to tell a story, and the novelty has certainly worn off, but Profile is a sporadically effective addition to the widening group of movies that use this format.
Profile is inspired by a true story, where we follow Amy (Valene Kane), a British freelance journalist, who decides to go undercover on the Internet as a Muslim convert, in the hopes of finding and exposing a terrorist ring, who recruit young women to join ISIS. The scariest part of the movie is how easy it was for Amy to connect with a recruiter named Bilel (Shazad Latif), who takes an immediate liking to Amy’s new persona Melody Nelson. They have a series of Skype calls (which Amy is recording to include in her piece on the subject), and Bilel’s cool, calm and collected brand of sociopathy endlessly fascinates Amy and continually reshapes the scope of her project.
The movie took its initial bow at the 2018 Berlin Film Festival – which was approximately 100 years ago, in pandemic years – before traveling around to other festivals (including South by Southwest) throughout 2018 and 2019. Having been screened numerous times over the past few years could make Profile feel a bit dated, since the way technology is distributed and consumed is ever-changing. Sadly, Profile still has a bit of relevance in depicting the dangerous and dark corners of the web; look no further than what was witnessed in the United States just this year.
Kane is a compelling actor to watch throughout the duration of the movie, as she turns from desperate freelancer, just trying to make rent, to becoming emotionally and mentally entangled in the project she pitched to her editor Vick (Christine Adams). She becomes consumed by the story, frantically trying to gather as much information as possible, while juggling friendships and a relationship with her fiancée Matt (Morgan Watkins), who wants to discuss their next home and future and all she can think about is her next conversation with Bilel. If the computer screen gimmick seems past its prime, Kane’s performance lends itself to how the movie is told. As she frantically clicks between screens and tries to keep everything straight with the two identities she must lead, Amy’s tension and stress become palpable.
Even so, this shouldn’t be the only style of filmmaking Bekmambetov ties himself to. After a while, more things become evident as simply trying to serve the purpose of the movie’s framework. People don’t constantly have important or everyday conversations over Skype, but to fit the computer screen narrative, they must. Once the originality wears off, so does an audience’s ability to buy in. Regardless, Profile is an effective study in tech-age radicalization, a problem that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. That’s the most terrifying aspect of the movie.