Profile is the latest film in this new genre of thrillers that take place entirely on a computer/phone screen, following in the footsteps of such films as Unfriended, Searching, and Spree. But unlike those movies, in which the screen-sharing gimmick runs thin the longer the movie goes on, Profile is a gripping, intense thriller that never lets up and uses the screen sharing gimmick perfectly.
Amy (Valene Kane) is a struggling journalist looking for a gig that will pay her enough to pay rent on her apartment and solidify a full-time job. She decides to go undercover online and infiltrate the online propaganda channels of the so-called Islamic State. She builds a fake name, Facebook profile, Skype name, everything that will conceal her identity. She eventually gets in contact with Abu Bilel Al-Britani (Shazad Latif), an ISIS recruiter, and the two begin to chat over Skype. But the more they talk, the closer they become and Amy begins to lose track of her assignment and starts forming a bond with Abu Bilel, putting her life more and more in danger with every conversation.
Profile is a mix of those “in-too-deep” movies, a la Donnie Brasco, relationship drama, and tense political thriller. What helps elevate Profile from other shared-screen thrillers is director Timur Bekmambetov’s experience as a horror director. With Unfriended, Searching, Spree, and other films in this genre, the directors either were very inexperienced behind the camera or had no experience in the horror/thriller genre and in some cases, it was a combination of both. But Bekmambetov has experience both as a director and in the horror genre, which ultimately helps Profile stay exciting, fresh, and interesting the entire runtime. Bekmambetov keeps the tension tight, continuously pulling it until it is almost unbearable. He also uses the gimmick of the screen-sharing nicely, focusing mostly on the Skype conversations between Amy and Abu Bilel but adding chaotic elements like phone calls from Amy’s boyfriend while Amy is talking to Abu Bilel, Amy’s editor constantly asking Amy to finish her story, and Amy’s hidden Skype identity not working. There is tension in every scene and Profile doesn’t let up until the credits roll.
Valene Kane gives one of the best performances I have seen in 2021. Kane essentially plays two characters and she is brilliant in both. As Amy, Kane portrays a woman looking to make a break with a great story while contemplating whether or not to move in with her boyfriend. But as Amy goes deeper and deeper into her story, she loses sight of who she is and and her assignment and completely loses herself in her new identity that she has created. When she talks to Abu Bilel, she turns into a submissive, quiet woman trying to win the heart of the militant psycho, only to actually grow feelings for him and tell him secrets about her actual life. Kane brilliantly portrays Amy’s passion to get the story, fear as her cover might be blown at any moment, and as a woman who’s life is crumbling around her. Latif is equally great as the charismatic terrorist. Though a terrible person, there are moments of charm and sweetness to Bilel that help us understand why Amy is growing closer to him and why she is telling him secrets of her life, only for us to snap out of it and realize this man is truly dangerous and Amy is in serious danger. Kane and Latif have great chemistry together and carry the emotional weight of the movie.
Though not a genre I particularly like, Profile is far and away the best of the screen-sharing genre. Led by two great performances by Valene Kane and Shazad Latif and smart, tense filmmaking from Timur Bekmambetov, Profile is one of the best thrillers of the year.
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