This article originally appeared on The Film Experience
New and innovative films inevitably bring out imitators. 2018’s Searching is the obvious predecessor to Profile, the new film from Russian filmmaker (and Searching producer) Timur Bekmambetov. While the film ratchets up the tension to almost unbearable levels, the film’s script issues and over-dramatic characterizations turn this film into a bloated mess, albeit a watchable one.
Valene Kane stars as Amy Whittaker, a struggling freelance journalist who has an idea for a story: what if she can get recruited by Syrian jihadists in order to discover their tactics? Amy creates a fake Facebook profile under the name Melody Nelson and begins liking ISIS videos, hoping to gain attention. In almost no time at all, “Melody” is befriended by Bilel (Shazad Latif), a London-born ISIS member living in Syria.
Amy tells her editor Vick (Christine Adams) about the story and gets the green light to proceed. Using her research skills and YouTube tutorials, Amy begins transforming herself into a young Islamic convert living in London to contact Bilel face-to-face (through Skype). Amy, as Melody, interacts more and more with Bilel, endearing herself to him as he attempts to gain her trust and get her to Syria. All the while, Amy attempts to navigate her dual life as the line between Amy and Melody becomes increasingly blurred.
The entirety of the narrative takes place on Amy’s desktop, and secondarily as recaps each the day’s activities. The film never strays from her computer and we do not view any other perspective than that of Amy’s desktop. The majority of the film takes place through Skype calls.
Amy is shown to be a neurotic and inconsistent character. One moment, she is the absolute driving force behind this story, and the next she is screaming in fear of the potential dangers. Other times, she seems exasperated while the next moment she is shown putting every ounce of effort into her story. Kane plays this character relatively straight and shifts between Amy’s looseness to the more timid and reserved Melody. Her main trait to seem younger is to heighten and quiet her voice, and it mostly blends in.
Latif has the much trickier role of humanizing a terrorist, but his entire disposition is to exude charm. He is quick-witted and compliment heavy while giving backstory to his character without truly showing why he would go to such extremes. The conclusion to Bilel as a character is unsurprising, but Latif does such a good job, you don’t put any faults on to the actor.
Just as was the case with Searching, it takes a while to get accustomed to the general conceit. I watched the film on a large living room television, and still had to strain to see the small text dialogue through instant messenger chats. It takes about 30 minutes, but the strangeness wears off, or the film begins to get comfortable with the new environment. Once the viewer moves past, the film’s final third is a masterclass of tension, where you feel true terror for the potential of Amy’s safety. Her previous research has shown how dangerous things can get for women like Melody and the film puts you into this situation where it seems like violence could happen at any moment.
The film’s main problem is the problem most films have about journalism: objectivity and journalistic standards. Amy gets so deep into the role of Melody that she begins falling in love with Bilel. Also, despite the dangers she keeps getting herself into, Amy keeps pushing despite her own concerns and the repeated demands to stop by Vick. Additionally, Amy’s life is so obsessed with Bilel, that she disconnects from her friends and boyfriend; hammering home the cliche of the lack of a work/life balance. While the film wants to reinforce the ends justifying the means, Amy ignores every possible journalistic foundation on her way to gaining information.
While an entertaining watch, Profile falls short of reaching greater heights due to poor characterization and cliched ethics. You would think Bekmambetov would have learned the key to Searching‘s success lied in the strongly-written characters and not the innovation of its narrative.