By Lynn Venhaus
An interesting concept using unique technology, “Profile” is an unconventional thriller that plays out entirely on a computer screen.
“Profile” follows an undercover British journalist (Valene Kane) in her quest to bait and expose an ISIS terrorist recruiter (Shazad Latif) through social media, while trying not to be sucked in by him and lured into becoming a militant extremist herself.
This Screenlife format was pioneered by writer-director Timur Bekmambetov, a Russian filmmaker who produced “Unfriended” and “Searching” using the same technology. He also directed “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” in 2012, which indicates he is not a typical narrative kind of guy.
Those used to more traditional storytelling may not find the format sustainable, but the fast-paced swirl of information does move the story along. The problem is not the Skype, text messages, videos or social media posts, but rather the plot itself – when a couple hard-to-swallow developments occur as it moves to its conclusion.
The film is inspired by a true story of a woman who changed her name to Anna Erelle and wrote a novel “In the Skin of a Jihadist” in 2015, which Bekmambetov and co-screenwriters Brittany Poulton and Olga Kharina adapted for this tale.
Valene Kane is mostly convincing as Amy Whittaker, an ambitious freelance TV reporter whose personal life is complicated – her insufferable shallow fiancé Matt (Morgan Watkins) wants to upgrade their living quarters and she can’t come up with her half just yet.
She pitches the idea of going undercover, posing as a young convert to Islam, to ensnare an ISIS recruiter who is trafficking war brides. The sex slavery aspect intrigues her boss Vick (Christine Adams), who will eventually offer her full-time work.
The assignment is going well but takes a turn, where Amy makes some unethical decisions – and her interaction with her TV editor isn’t realistic either.
As played by Shazad Latif, Abu Bilel Al-Britani is a charismatic soldier, and his tactics appear to be working as he professes his love for Amy, who is masquerading as Melody Nelson.
Abu Bilel isn’t his real name, either. So, who is fooling who? Are Amy’s actions for real or a set-up?
With her messy personal life, job and financial worries, she is vulnerable.
Those are questions that we won’t get satisfactory answers to in this dangerous game. Are we to believe Amy is impulsive, effectively manipulated and emotionally attached – or is it phony?
The film’s credibility is ultimately at stake.
Regarding the Screenlife gimmick, it is engaging. Shot in nine days, the film’s look is seamless, with good work by editor Andrey Shugaer and production designer Ben Smith.
The film, set in 2014, emphasizes the consequences of living out loud online and how prevalent lies and deceit are in social media. Had the plot not disintegrated in the third act, this would be even scarier than the stories we know to be true on radicalized women sucked into the risky dark side.
“Profile” is a 2018 drama-thriller directed by Timur Bekmambetov that starts Valene Kane, Shazad Latif, Christine Adams, Morgan Watkins. It is rated R for language throughout and some disturbing images and the run time is 1 hour, 45 minutes. Opens in theatres May 14. Lynn’s Grade: B-
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.