Profile is one of those films that is set up to make you think about how easily individuals can be manipulated without even being aware of the effects. It is a true story and so it resonates in a different manner than a more fictional accounting. As soon as I read the description and the setup for the movie, I was intrigued by the concept and the story. Everything in the movie is filmed through the lens of an online profile and computer screens. Within this framework, the story is presented uniquely and the story is deeply absorbing. The film truly makes you ponder how simple it is to affect even intelligent people into questioning themselves. It is disturbing but also thoughtful, well-acted, and engaging.
Profile is a 2018 internationally co-produced thriller film directed by Timur Bekmambetov, from a screenplay by Bekmambetov, Britt Poulton, and Olga Kharina. It is based upon the non-fiction book In The Skin of a Jihadist by Anna Erelle. In the story, in order to investigate the recruitment of young European women by ISIS, journalist Amy Whitaker (Valene Kane) creates a fake Facebook profile under the alias of Melody Nelson, a young woman who has recently converted to Islam. She is quickly contacted by Bilel (Shazad Latif), an ISIS fighter from Syria. While at first she is concerned by the danger, she needs rent money and her editor, Vick (Christine Adams), convinces her that she will have online support, Lou (Amir Rahimzadeh) during her contact with Bilel. The pair soon begin talking to each other regularly, which alienates Amy’s boyfriend, Matt (Morgan Watkins), and her friends as she spends more and more time trying to find out information. But as she probes, so too does Bilel set out to charm and manipulate her, pulling her into his world, until she no longer is sure of her true self and begins to have romantic feelings for him, illustrating how easy it is to change a person into behavior they would never normally exhibit, even when they know better.
Part of the reason this works so well is the way the film presents the information, through the use of Amy’s false online profile, as she chats, Skypes, and otherwise interacts with Bilel, while moving through her life via texts, video chats, and phone calls. She captures videos of her time with Bilel and we see her perspective as certain videos are played. We also see how Bilel utilizes technology, asking to see her screen to verify that she is who she says she is. She looks up words in his language to understand and pretend. The more Amy pretends the more she falls into believing what she is told. You see her asking questions but also believing Bilel and hesitating to ask questions as part of her investigation. She almost tells him who she really is and almost falls into his web of deception. It is pervasive, it is creepy, and it is made more powerful and impactful by the social profile filter.
The acting by Valene Kane and Shazad Latif is the other factor to why this film is so compelling. There is an electric dynamic between the pair, even when you see Valene as the character of Amy drop her call in fear and disgust. Valene Kane is extremely talented, managing both the persona of Amy and her alter ego Melody, a much younger woman. Shazad Latif is charming and boisterous, warm and yet manipulative as he gives Amy warmth, charm, and lies in equal measure. The other supporting actors are strong in the film as well but it is truly this pair that creates the mood and tells the story with skill and power.
This film most likely won’t be for everyone. It is pervasive and also clearly shows how young women can be recruited into radical elements, from ISIS to other cults. There were moments that were disturbing but also profoundly powerful. But the story jumps from screen to screen which might be difficult to follow if you are unfamiliar with the technology. You may also want to steer away given the element of manipulation, lies, and fear that Amy experiences. However, all of those concepts are presented in a realistic manner only to illustrate the truth of the story.
If you like thrillers, true stories, or a unique presentation, this film might be one to watch. It is absorbing, has incredible acting, powerful emotions, and kept me on the edge of my seat. It realistically portrays the ability to engage with an individual and manipulate them into isolation, change in behavior, and becoming a follower, in whatever group is recruiting them. It is also easy to see how abuse can happen, especially with a young woman. It is enlightening and eye-opening.
Profile opens exclusively in theaters this Friday, May 14, 2021.
Rating: 4 out of 5 open tabs.
Official Website: Profile Official Site | Profile Tickets | Profile Trailer