[North Bend Film Fest] PROFILE Review: Going Undercover Online

By: Emily von Seele


Based on a true story, Profile is the latest “Screenlife” film to hit the public consciousness. Rather than a traditional approach, “Screenlife” tells an entire story through numerous windows and apps on a computer screen. The concept has previously been seen in Nacho Vigalondo’s Open Windows, and both Unfriended and Unfriended: Dark Web; in Profile, Timur Bekmambetov works to stretch the approach to tell a story over the course of several weeks, rather than in real time over the course of a couple of hours. It’s a successful illustration of the concept, seamlessly bridging multiple video chats and calls with a series of messages, video clips, and other media to tell a complex and tense story.

Amy (Valene Kane) is a freelance journalist investigating a wave of young British women who suddenly converted to Islam and traveled to the Middle East to join ISIS. Amy knows that these girls are being recruited over the internet, and hopes to go undercover to get information on exactly how this process takes place.

She creates a series of fake profiles depicting herself as a recent convert and begins sharing propaganda and videos in an attempt to gain the attention of the right people. It works, and she is soon contacted by a man calling himself Bilel (Shazad Latif). A British citizen who expatriated to join ISIS, Bilel seems just the right in for Amy to get her information. But it’s a dangerous project. If Amy is exposed, her life would be in jeopardy, so it is imperative that she plays her role perfectly and that she gets the information she needs as quickly as possible — without accidentally giving away too much about herself.

The film is fantastically paced, balancing the intrigue of Amy’s assignment with the interactions between her and Bilel. As the pair get to know one another, they share some intimate moments and details of their lives, and we begin to wonder if there might be an actual connection forming — something more than a surface level conversation meant to glean information. But, at the same time, both characters supposedly came to the table ready to be exactly what the other one wanted, so can we really trust anything we are seeing?

That, my friends, is the heart of what makes Profile work so well. Can we ever really trust what we are seeing in an informational space? Does technology really bring us closer together, or does it put up further barriers? The beauty in Profile goes beyond seeing what happens to these characters to seeing how it happens — watching them interact with one another and seeing that relationship develop over time.

Kane plays her role incredibly well — offering up both the character of Amy, but also Amy’s alter ego, Melody. She has to switch between these personas on a dime as her calls with Bilel begin and end, and we get to see just how much strain the act of playing Melody puts on Amy. Determined and resourceful though she may be, this assignment is a tricky one, and it absolutely has an effect on her psyche.

Bekmambetov, along with writers Britt Poulton and Olga Kharina, utilizes the single screen storytelling method as more than a gimmick. We see how it necessarily plays into Amy’s investigation and opens a door to a world she might never have otherwise reached. As fascinated as we are to see her dig deeper, we are also worried about her safety, as she is putting everything on the line in order to get this story. The film has some immensely tense moments and a keen desire to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Profile is as effective as it is because the story and the form go hand in hand to create something unique and timely.

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