To err? That’s human, so when appropriate forgive yourself and carry on. To err as a reporter? Could have been more careful, but hopefully your proofreaders and editors can back you up. To err as a reporter disguising as a potential candidate for an extremist group? Well…
As a Screenlife production like Unfriended or Searching, only this time directed by the style’s populariser himself Timur Bekmambetov, Profile is dependent on foul-ups both potential and actual. It lives for them (one might say since 2018 when it premiered). Amy (Valene Kane), the owner of the computer screen we’ll be glued to, is in no position to afford at least one fumble, but she’s a freelance writer. Normally that title in itself is enough of an explanation, but for the uninitiated it implies a potentially damaging need to prove your worth. To cross lines to get things done. To constantly move deadlines and hear superiors’ angry sighs. Amy will often do the latter to Vick (Christine Adams) as she is onto a story that can net her a staff position: how the Islamic State group is recruiting young girls living in Europe over Facebook.
There’s a notable hectic nature to the way Amy, now Melody, communicates with people in Profile, doesn’t matter if it’s Vick, the colleague Lou (Amir Rahimzadeh), her lover Matt (Morgan Watkins) and — most importantly — the IS recruiter she will often Skype with “Abu Bilel” (Shazad Latif). On one hand it’s reflective of the inherent Everest of risk Amy is tackling, but on the other it’s evidence that writers Brittany Poulton, Olga Kharina and Bekmambetov himself have taken the easiest path to adapting the experiences of French journalist Anna Érelle (alias) in 2014 (and later in her book In the Skin of a Jihadist). The obviousness and frequency of “here’s where you get tense” cues undercut the inherent topical subtexts you can deduce from reading Érelle’s words or the way she had paced her journaling. It might also be proof of how Bekmambetov is still close to the gleeful-rampaging filmmaking roots that put him on the map. The vulnerability of social network users (especially women) to targeted messages, the gross naïveté (or apathy) of social network creators, and the way media outlets will readily abandon well-being for clicks — they might be present in the film, but they are traces at their best. It’s squarely paranoia-thriller from boot up to shut down, more to its detriment than benefit.
Despite under direction and scripting hyper-bent on making Amy’s work hell, Kane does get to turn in (just) a couple of stirring episodes where her character has to hide the fact she’s a hair away from fraying — lest Matt be upset or Bilel finds out. Latif’s Bilel is a step down from his Dr. Jekyll in Penny Dreadful in terms of complexity, but now and then he does exude blips of the bad boy-valiant warrior combo Amy said (and Anna implied) unshielded girls will find alluring, doesn’t matter if the man’s hands are bloodier than most or that his kitten-loving Instagram might just be a cyber-snare (for Amy). Honestly, all it takes for Amy’s reality to wreck is by making a single error on the net. A scary thought, yet one that Bekmambetov isn’t exactly interested in portraying and only comes forth the farther you are from the character’s screen.
Profile will be in theatres in the US from May 14, 2021