“By 2014, hundreds of young women had left Europe to join ISIS. Their journeys began on social media platforms where they found new friends and chose new names.”
Based on the non-fiction novel, In The Skin of a Jihadist, this film tells the story about one reporters journey to create a groundbreaking story and how she nearly lost herself in the process. Valene Kane (The Fall) plays Amy Whittaker, a freelance reporter struggling to make ends meet when she decides to investigate the recruitment of young European women by ISIS. As part of her investigation, Amy creates a fake Facebook profile of a young woman who has recently converted to Islam. Before long, she is contacted by Bilel (Shazad Latif, Star Trek: Discovery), an ISIS fighter from Syria. On the surface, he is charming and he speaks of his chosen cause with great passion and conviction. Amy’s editor is ecstatic about the potential story, and before long, Amy finds herself disguising herself in the garb of a respectable Muslim so that she can engagement in Skype sessions with Bilel. This was a very unique and compelling story that was full of intense and suspenseful moments from the opening scenes. The most unique element of the story was that the entire film is told from the perspective of a computer screen.
First, I’d like to address the interesting perspective that was chosen to bring this story to life. By limiting the audience to a perspective that they would essentially have if they were log on to their own computers, I believe that it made the story that more immersive and engaging. In a sense, it was like being a part of the story; it made the suspense of what was occurring that much more palpable. This unique style, which has been dubbed Screen Life, has become a popular style of the film’s director, Timur Bekmambetov, since 2015. He’s produced several films in this format, including horror film Unfriended and its subsequent sequel, Unfriended: Dark Web, as well as mystery thriller Searching starring John Cho. Needless to say, Bekmambetov is well-versed in this narrative style, and he brings every bit of that experience to bear with this film. According to Bekmambetov, “A computer screen film should take place on one specific screen, never outside of the screen, the camerawork should resemble the behavior of the device’s camera, all the action should take place in real time, without any visible transitions, and all things should originate from the computer.” And he holds true to that doctrine with this film, in my opinion.
There is another element that is just as important to the film’s narrative style, if you ask me: the performance of your cast. In fact, I dare to say that without a good performance from your cast, the whole thing could potentially collapse. Luckily, that wasn’t the case for this film. Everyone came ready to work, Kane especially. Being that she was not only the main focus of the film, as it was her computer screen that we were observing, but also the film’s heart, she was truly convincing. Her role had many nuances; she was playing a character within a character, and as such, she had to be convincing enough that we bought her as a middle-aged reporter, but she also had to be a believable teenage girl who was susceptible to the charms of an older and manipulative predator. Talk about double duty. As I mentioned before, the film is very fortunate that Kane was up to the task, because the story could have very easily collapsed if her portrayal was anything short of believable.
As expected, certain aspects of the film hasve been sensationalized or altered for the sake of enhancing the story. Based on my on research, I can attest that the film does its source material justice. It captures the elements about the author nearly losing herself and how the pretending was the equivalent of leading a double life. For the character, like for the author, things became blurred, because after all, how long can you pretend to be someone else before you start to lose elements of yourself? The film does a great job of bringing this principle to the forefront, as we watch the people in Amy’s life all worry and express concern about how involved she is becoming with the story.
Things finally come to a head in the film’s climax when our protagonist is forced to confront the real danger of her assignment, which was in keeping with the very real danger that the author faces to this very day. The truth is of absolute importance, but the simple reality is the truth is never without its cost. Profile shows us just how true that is.