INFLUENCER (2022) is an excellent horror/thriller that recently came to Shudder. A friend recommended it and I watched it blind, which was a good way to go. I’ll try to set the stage and then I’ll warn you when I’m going to get into specifics of the structure and plot that you might prefer to experience first hand.

It’s set in Thailand, but all the characters are westerners, most of them on vacation. The opening introduces us to Madison (Emily Tennant, SNIPER: ASSASSIN’S END), who narrates in the form of an Instagram video or social media post about her love of travel and adventure, of meeting new people and learning about new places. But we see she’s doing none of that – she’s almost entirely alone at a luxury resort, floating in the pool, getting a massage, lounging on scenic overlooks, occasionally smiling for selfies.

We don’t know for sure if she’s always like this. She’s going through something with her boyfriend Ryan (Rory J. Saper, 18-year-old Tarzan in THE LEGEND OF TARZAN), who was supposed to go on the trip with her, now plans to meet up later, and is being a dick on video chat. So here she is drinking a martini alone at a mostly empty resort bar, taking a picture of herself, then having to politely make conversation with an older British guy named Rupert (Paul Spurrier, Brice from MAX HEADROOM [original movie version]) after he offers to take her selfie for her. He’s probly harmless, but it’s a relief when another young woman named CW (Cassandra Naud, HOT STREET) intervenes and invites her on a walk.

I’m sure I’m not alone in that the first thing I noticed about CW is the large birthmark on one side of her face. The first few times we see her around, noticing Madison, her head is turned the other way so that we just catch glimpses of the mark as she reveals just the edge of it. When she talks to Madison we see it in full, and it’s mysterious – what is it exactly? What does it mean about the character? It doesn’t stop CW from being strikingly beautiful, even if it’s distracting at first. But it could be the reason she makes a point of staying out of Madison’s photos, and says she doesn’t like social media. Could be.

I was wondering if it could be the case, and it turns out it is, that this is not a character or plot point. It’s just the real birthmark the actress was born with, and has chosen not to have removed. It works as a contrast to the surface and image obsessed world of influencers that this character, and real person, would prioritize their own natural born uniqueness over rigid traditional ideas of beauty. But thankfully it’s not something the characters ever discuss. It’s only mentioned once, as an identifying feature, as it obviously would be.

CW is local, or at least has been living here for a few years, so she’s able to take Madison around Bangkok on her motorcycle. She immediately seems much cooler than her, but the fact that she would hang out with Madison makes Madison seem a little cooler. When Madison’s hotel is broken into and her passport is stolen, CW helps her file for a replacement and brings her to stay at her amazing house. This movie’s locations – both of natural beauty and of rich people extravagance – really make it transporting in a way that’s rare for indie horror.

This world of young women who live a life of luxury and perceived importance just by posting about themselves and endorsing products is one I only know from INGRID GOES WEST and TRIANGLE OF SADNESS, two movies I enjoyed. The unreliable narrator here made me expect another satirical take, but this turns out to be something different. I like the neutral position the movie takes. It certainly doesn’t think the influencer racket is cool at all. It’s also not “my life is so empty, woe is me” about it. But seeing Madison make a new friend humanizes her, and when we start to suspect she’s gonna be the target of the horror movie scenario here, we can’t help but identify with her. I think that’s still an underrated aspect of horror movies, despite being part of Carol Clover’s premise of the “final girl”: their ability to call upon your empathy any time a character who’s not a total asshole is being terrorized. It becomes less important what’s different about us (she’s an influencer, I think that’s a stupid job) and more important what we have in common (we’re both mortal humans who don’t want to die), so we’re on the same team.

We sense the metaphorical storm clouds forming over this vacation paradise when CW tells Madison she has surprise plans for the day and brings her on a little motorboat to a small, uninhabited island. Sitting at a campfire, Madison reminisces about scary stories her friends used to tell each other growing up, and jokes that CW brought her out here to kill her.

The awkward silence after that joke says everything, it seems. But not quite everything. CW says she’s not going to kill her… she’s going to leave her here. Madison thinks she’s joking, of course. She laughs and dances around, gets drunk, and CW leaves while she’s asleep.

I think we’re about a half hour in now, and the credits start. So that’s the set up, and I will consider this SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON, because the unexpected shifts and turns are what I loved most about the story. There’s more than one point where I felt settled into what the movie seemed to be, and suddenly there would be sort of a new chapter that wasn’t what I expected. Always a thrill. Kind of novelistic.

The first big change is this shift in perspective. I thought I was watching a movie about Madison, turns out it’s about CW. She told Madison no one would come looking for her, “just like all the other girls,” so this wasn’t a one time thing – this is what she does. And now, with the truth about her revealed, we follow along as she covers her tracks (including by making fake posts on Madison’s accounts, attacking her fake online life along with her real one) and as she plans and executes her next one. We know the broad strokes of how she lured in Madison, and now it fills in more of the details, becoming a procedural. For example we realize that the beautiful place she was staying in must’ve belonged to her last victim, because now she’s taken Madison’s place.

In a way it becomes a much prettier version of the MANIAC or ANGST type of horror movie, where you’re stuck hanging out with the cat instead of the mouse. And because CW is a generally compelling character and has become the protagonist, I instinctively get nervous for her when she has a close call or hits an unexpected dead end. I do not approve of her activities but I’m morbidly curious to see them pan out, see how deep she can dig this hole before it all collapses on her. I feel complicit.

She searches Instagram for solo travelers in Bangkok, zeroes in on another influencer named Jessica (Sara Canning, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES). Jessica seems a little more with it than Madison, also a little less likable, and a little more full of shit judging from her scammy-sounding inspirational posts about “joining her team.” The way CW gets her to talk is to pretend to be a fan, and Jessica mentions “my team of girls.” CW is a psycho trying to stalk this poor woman, but we find ourselves rolling our eyes along with her. Again – complicit.

The next big shift is when she’s nearing the “take her out to the island” finale, having stolen Jessica’s passport and driven her out to “her” place. But the door is open and there’s a trail of rose petals, because Madison’s boyfriend Ryan showed up trying to win her back. Oh shit!

I guess on second thought maybe it’s more like a noir than a MANIAC. The lies CW told Jessica don’t fit with the things Ryan knows, but she tries to juggle them, make it seem like the story makes sense, change the subject when they question it. And Jessica’s personality actually makes her a better match for CW than Madison was, more likely to figure out what’s going on. But even when they get suspicious, neither Jessica or Ryan can really imagine what her sick plot is. They just assume she’s trying to get their money.

There are more perspective shifts, and I found myself able to concede that as much as I wouldn’t personally want to hang out with some of these people, they are the party to root for. But it kept me in suspense til the end. This is a really good one. It’s directed by Kurtis David Harder (SPIRAL [2019]), who also wrote the screenplay with Tesh Guttikonda (SUMMERLAND). It seems I might have to look into a couple movies I had previously ignored.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 6th, 2023 at 7:08 am and is filed under Reviews, Horror, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

11 Responses to “Influencer”

  1. I’m guessing there’s more to it than the:


    gender-reversed Purple Noon you describe


    because all the reviews I’ve seen speak of ‘super-gigantor’ twists in store, and I assume the plot of a 63-year-old movie (not to mention, the 68-year-old novel it’s based on) counts as ‘super-gigantor’

    However, THANK YOU for mentioning the birthmark. Of the three reviews I’ve read thus far, none have. Yet, all include a press photo where it’s prominent. Inevitably causing a “What’s up with that girl’s face?” comment. Of course–just as sharks smell blood in the water–someone sniffs out perceived moral high ground on the internet, and the instinct to bully someone they perceive as ‘lower’ proves irresistible, they swiftly reply “That girl is beautiful! What’s up with YOU???”

    That said, it didn’t stop me from wondering “but…what is up with that girl’s face…”

  2. Crushinator Jones

    June 6th, 2023 at 2:39 pm

    Maybe they’re not taking the high ground. Maybe they genuinely do find your “what’s up with that girl’s face?” in response to a very obvious birthmark to truly be repulsive.

  3. Maybe they genuinely do find your “what’s up with that girl’s face?” in response to a very obvious birthmark to truly be repulsive.

    It’s obvious? It couldn’t be makeup as part of the film?
    Sorry, I’m not a dermatologist and can spot obvious birthmarks from press photos of fictitious situations.

  4. Crushinator Jones

    June 6th, 2023 at 2:57 pm

    “I didn’t know it was a birthmark because I’m not a dermatologist.” Really? That’s where you’re trying to go with this?

  5. dreadguacamole

    June 6th, 2023 at 5:52 pm

    I did see SUMMERLAND, but it struck me as an odd match to this writer because that’s as stolid a middlebrow movie as you’re likely to get. But it turns out that the script Guttikonda wrote is for a completely different SUMMERLAND that also came out in 2020.

    Disappointingly neither of them are based on Hannu Rajaniemi’s excellent Tim-Powers-style novel, or Michael Chabon’s book of the same title (which I haven’t read, but sounds like King/Straub’s The Talisman but with Baseball.)

  6. Prominent birthmarks on actors are rare and I’m sure everyone involved in the production of this movie—the actress included—was aware it would be a visual element. Of course, that doesn’t mean an immediate “WTF” reaction doesn’t deserve some thought and reflection. All of this can co-exist.

  7. I can’t think of another case of a lead actor with a prominent birthmark like that, so I did assume at first it was makeup and would have importance to the plot. The truth is more interesting so I’m glad my review answered questions about the photo. I don’t think we need to argue about it.

  8. BuzzFeedAldrin

    June 8th, 2023 at 7:32 am

    I liked this. The plot got a little wonky at times but Cassandra Naud was great and I’d really like to see her in more things!

  9. This is not usually one I’d watch, but heard it was good so checked it out. And it was! It had the exact ending I was hoping for. I like that the snarkier girl, because she was cynical figure it out while the first had the whole evil plan spilled out to her and was then like hey let’s get drunk and go to sleep! At first I thought the dude was maybe going to do a revenhe thing but I figure he’ fuck it up because he sure was a dummy.

    As for the birthmark, I liked that the DID integrate it into the plot several times (Gave away the fake video, the island dude was able to identify her by the mark and left no doubt). If you got a feature like that and you’re in a thriller, it seems criminally negligent NOT to use it. For a bit I thought maybe she even wrote the movie, gave herself a starring role and used her unique features cause why not. But looks like she didn’t.

  10. I don’t know. I liked it well enough and the general twistiness of the pushy ex-boyfriend suddenly being the one you’re rooting for, but I don’t feel it stuck the landing.


    I can buy CW being a super-hacker serial killer, but her being able to drown a guy with a knife while her hands are tied behind her back is just… upper-digit Saw movie stupid. And it’s in service of ending the movie with the exact twist you can guess they’re headed towards from the opening credits. At the very least…

    *even more spoiler*

    They could’ve had Madison go “nah, leaving this bitch alive in the exact same circumstances in which I survived and am now escaping is dumb as hell, I’m just gonna break her skull open.” As it is, it’s too pat, too Outer Limits when it needed to be Twilight Zone.

  11. Who broke into Madison’s room though? How did CW have time to grab Madison’s passport when she was with Madison that whole day/evening? Or did someone assist CW and they left that detail out?

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