After a year of growing accustom to most of our human interactions being shared over a computer screen, the release timing for director Timur Bekmambetov’s Profile cannot be more perfect. What once was something limited to fraction of our communications, video calls (or Zoom calls as most people call them) have become the new norm. Their newfound commonplace ramps up the effectiveness of the film’s approach to storytelling feel more timely and relatable than it would have just months ago.
Profile’s uses a first person point of view approach telling a story that unfolds through computer windows and phone screens for the entire length of the film. All the dialogue is delivered via Skype (not Zoom) video calls, chat boxes, emails, social media and texts. It is a style he used effectively in his 2014 horror film Unfriended and even more so in Searching a film Bekmambetov produced. The later was essentially an online version of Liam Neeson’s Taken where John Cho desperately searching for his missing child almost exclusively through computers and smartphones.
In Profile we are invited into the communications of Amy Whittaker (Valene Kane) an undercover British journalist who tries to catch the eye of an alleged ISIS terrorist in an attempt to infiltrate and expose the whereabouts of a terror ring. She is following in the footsteps of young woman who was recruited by the group only to be publicly stoned when she tried to escape it. Using the fake persona of Melody, she quickly connects with a man named Bilel (Shazad Latif) who she has to convince to trust her in order for her plan to work. If all goes well it could put a small dent in global terrorism, if not, it could cost her her life. Their relationship grows from recruiting to faux flirting to an awkward relationship teetering on a real emotional connection.
Amy/Melody begins a string of lies that quickly entangle into a massive ball of deception, one that seems impossible to stay ahead and may eventually crush her. Any slip-up or a seemingly simple question which answer she fumbles could blow her cover – not something you want to do when dealing with ISIS. The situation becomes immersive and unrelenting, raising your pulse and maintaining an elevated level for most of the film.
It is a blindfolded juggling act through a minefield where one bad move can derail everything. The film reaches near unbearable levels of tension as Amy tries to keep things straight bouncing back and forth between her alter egos. Unexpected calls, random texts and other uncontrollable disruptions from the world around her often trigger Bilel doubts. This once lead to him demanding she share her desktop with him. Which while sounding like a small demand until you see all the traces of her true identity (Amy) cluttering her screen, including her profile name. It leads to is a heart-racing flurry of on screen actions. She frantically bounces across numerous browser windows, chats and conversations searching for a way to satisfy the mission-jeopardizing request.
Even while restricted mainly to Skype windows, internet searches and chat boxes, Kane delivers an impressive performance with generous amounts of emotion. Her work is authentic enough to keep you lost in the moment. It had me holding my breath to make a peep, as if I was in the room with Amy afraid to blow her cover. The camera is almost always on her face via the webcam allowing us to witness her convincing smile and kind eyes as madness is unfolds around her desktop. Latif paints Bilel with different strokes making him empathic at one moment and terrifying the next. Through him we also get a look at the inner workings of a terrorist group which often feels more like a boys club than an organization.
The film bottles edge-of-your-seat energy which is impressive since much of what builds the tension is something as simple as a chat box. Even through a digital presentation Bekmambetov retains a very human element at its core. As we learn more about both the hunter and the hunted (roles that often seem to flip back and forth). We also are led to question where Amy’s loyalty and heart lies as her long distance romance becomes more of an obsession. Could she be falling into her own trap?
The film touches up heavier themes about good and evil, the luring powers of technology and radicalism. It is surprising how effective that lure can be at times seducing both Amy and the viewers into this dark web. With a few shared cat gifs, a few kind words and a killer smile it is not too tough to temporarily forget that Bilel is a murderer. Seeing how powerful it can be only makes events like the Insurrection of the Capitol even scarier – with the right people at the helm make shift armies of the fearful, lonely and feeble-minded can rise up. It is enough for you to want to cancel the internet – not just for you, but for all. (But then where would you get these wonderful reviews?)
Profile is a thriller that thrives off of our paranoia and the kinetic energy of Amy’s desktop. While an abrupt ending undercuts the impact slightly and overall it is a little gimmicky, I had few major issues with it. It kept me immersed and entertained throughout thanks to some clever scenarios and a standout performance by Kane. She is face I hope we see more of on our screens soon, hopefully breaking past the confines of the computer monitor.