Given its isolationist approach with tension developed solely through social media screens, Profile seems a film made during the pandemic.
Instead, this terrorist thriller film was released in 2018 and makes its way to domestic theaters now. The timing probably works better for Profile, which looks more like a movie of the moment than when it originally reached theaters.
Similar to his previous horror thriller Unfriended, director/co-writer Timur Bekmambetov uses an array of social media screens — iTunes, Skype and emails — to create a unique mood. Unfriended suffered from a lousy ending, but twisted typical horror movie tropes in clever ways. Profile lacks the stupidity safety net inherent in most modern horror thrillers. That means it has to convey thrills and chills — unsuccessfully — from another approach.
It’s 2014 and freelance journalist Amy (Valene Kale, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) is working on a huge story on ISIS recruiting. She plans to get recruited herself to provide a first-hand account of the tactics that have been successful in luring Muslim converts into the fold.
We’re never told what drew Amy to this story and why she’s willing to take such a major risk. Maybe it was from the video she about a teenager getting radicalized and stoned for wanting to return home?
Given the limitations of their format, screenwriters Brittany Poulton, Olga Kharina and Bekmambetov can’t do a deep dive into Amy’s thoughts. This is when a film’s selling point gimmick clearly is a hindrance to storytelling.
It also doesn’t seem like Amy came in to this assignment with a ton of experience or basic know-how in infiltrating propaganda groups. Most of her background information for her character Melody comes from quick Google, YouTube and Dark Web searches.
That seems kinda crazy from a 2021 perspective and strains credibility with several ‘oh come on!’ moments. Profile is an adaptation of Anna Erelle’s In The Skin of a Jihadist detailing her actual infiltration efforts. Again, this is where shifting from a typical dramatic presentation for a more gimmicky one affects the storytelling. This gets very tricky once Amy actually makes contact with a recruiter Abu Bilel Al-Britani (Shazad Latif, Star Trek Discovery).
At least her assignment editor Vick (Christine Adams, Black Lightning) has basic common sense and tries to protect Amy from herself.
In one of the film’s more disappointing moments, Amy freaks out when Vick assigns her the tech expert Lou (Amir Rahimzadeh) who’s mother happens to be from Syria.
Amy’s own prejudices and stereotypes come flying out with zero justification. It wouldn’t have taken long, but Amy really needed to write a note detailing her shame about her immediate reaction to being paired with Lou as it makes it seem as if she’s not the unbiased journalist she’d need to be for this story if any Syrian could be a terrorist in her eyes.
Kale has a tough gig enacting acting through conversations with a character that doesn’t have a ton of depth, but she does enough to create some investment in Amy.
Latif’s role allows him to show more charisma and charm along with subtle traces of Bilel’s true intent. Latif doesn’t overplay Bilel’s more aggressive side, which shows how effective recruiters could be in luring disconnected teen girls to ISIS. Adams is the only other performer that gets much of an opportunity to make an impact but even that is limited to disjointed 30-second conversations with Amy.
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Conversations play out through pop-up windows. Bekmambetov typically portrays Amy as scattered and unfocused as she tends to have multiple conversations at once, throwing up some background music, taking notes in smaller windows, doing searches for Arabic translations and switching between multiple Facebook and Skype accounts.
You can see how easily things could go badly here. Whether from Amy getting sloppy with her recording reporting or actually falling for Bilel’s recruiting courtship, it seems inevitable that this won’t end well for Amy.
Bekmambetov milks the uneasiness and tension very well for a strong 70 minutes, but the film has another 35 minutes left and as the film hits the home stretch it’s already lost its ideal end point.
Just as frustrating is how Amy’s decision-making gets increasingly questionable. This becomes one of those situations where it’s hard to feel much sympathy for a character that’s worked harder to put themselves in a bad position. Somehow the final act is even more infuriating with an amazingly unsatisfying conclusion too neatly summed up by a few lines.
Profile probably would have made for a stronger film if Bekmambetov didn’t strictly tell the story from the laptop camera and allowed Amy to get away from the screen and interact with others. Getting up and walking away is probably a better option than sticking with Profile as well.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Focus Features