The biggest compliment that I can pay Profile is to say that it had me on edge the entire time. It wasn't until after screening the movie that I found out the story is based on Anna Erelle's autobiography In the Skin of a Jihadist, and that made me feel even more on edge. This is not the first film to play out completely on a computer screen; Unfriended and Searching are among those that did it first. It may, however, be the first time where the approach felt organic and earned, rather than as a gimmick. Profile's theme is how the seductive quality of the internet can be abused, so having events transpire offline really isn't necessary.
Amy (Valene Kane) is an undercover journalist looking to score a big story that will land her a permanent job at a news outlet. To this end, she is working with an editor to explore how the Islamic State recruits young women to join ISIS online. She creates a fake identity and Facebook profile, re-posts terrorism-related material, and is eventually contacted by Abu Bilel Al-Britani (Shazad Latif). On a series of video calls, he begins slowly feeling her out to see if she's legit. Tension is generated as Amy tries to remember all the advice she's been given about impersonating someone in the early stages of radicalization in order to fool him.
And fool him she does. Abu soon begins tantalizing her with promises of marriage, of life in a mansion, of endless wealth. Amy, who is in deep debt, struggles to maintain her objectivity the longer their relationship goes on. Profile shows the subtle psychological tricks ISIS recruiters use, such as revealing emotional personal struggles that may or may not be real and using bonding terms, as in the way Abu keeps calling Amy “my baby.”
You can see where the plot is going. That's okay because it's where the plot needs to go. Although ostensibly reporting on terrorist seduction techniques, Amy finds herself unknowingly susceptible to them. Horror builds and builds as we start to see signs of her becoming a victim. (When she calls her boyfriend “baby,” we can't help but shudder.) All that suspense leads to a finale in which the character paints herself into a corner from which there may be no satisfactory escape.
Our viewpoint from start to finish is her computer desktop. Profile unfolds via Facebook, Skype, iTunes, YouTube, etc. In keeping everything on a screen, director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) provides a sense of immediacy that allows us to understand more deeply how Abu lulls Amy into a perception of connectedness. Every app is a tool, every website a way of luring her in. We all know it's possible through social media to feel kinship with people we've never met in real life. The film gives us a view of how that can be utilized in a toxic manner. It's a harrowing experience.
Profile works not just because of the means of storytelling, but also because of the quality of the acting. Valene Kane is excellent in conveying the desperate upward mobility that causes Amy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Shazad Latif, meanwhile, gives one of the year's best performances. The actor infuses Abu with such charisma, such magnetism, that we totally understand how a person could fall under his spell. The movie benefits significantly from this spot-on bit of casting.
Because it deals with a scenario that regularly happens in real life, Profile is genuinely unnerving. The movie has something to say about the insidious nature of online recruitment. Watching it provides constant thrills. Thinking about it later on provides even more.
out of four
Profile is rated R for some disturbing images and language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.