Review: ‘Profile’ (social engineering social media)

A film guaranteed to make I.T. professionals yell at the screen.

In a 2014 story told through online videos and screen capture, Amy Whittaker (Valene Kane) is a journalist seeking a more lucrative career position. With a looming rent payment due and her boyfriend Matt (Morgan Watkins) asking her to move in together, Amy is pressured by her editor Vick (Christine Adams) into infiltrating the ISIS online recruitment of young women into the Islamic State and the horrors that follow. With an end goal of discovering the route innocent girls are being sent through before disappearing into Syria and elsewhere as sex slaves or worse, Amy invents “Melody Nelson” as a fake online profile and researches examples of other converts to better lure a recruiter’s attention. It isn’t enough to post pictures and words, however, as Bilel (Shazad Latif) takes the bait but insists upon video conversations, forcing Amy to become Melody via Skype… all the while finding it increasingly difficult to resist the attention from a handsome stranger in a distant land.

It’s a subject still being talked about today: disillusioned youth being radicalized and instructed to run away to a new life… only to discover too late they’re being sold into slavery. Director Timur Bekmambetov has adapted Anna Erelle’s 2015 book “In the Skin of a Jihadist” into a fictionalized account of a real incident and the discoveries made. The Screenlife format pioneered by Bekmambetov has mostly been used for horror films and thrillers like Unfriended and Searching, but it works best with a good story that pays attention to detail. C’mon, now: how frightening can a video chat really be while believing you’re safe behind a keyboard?

It’s quickly established that Amy isn’t prepared to handle the technical details of what she’s doing, paired soon after with “Arab” techie Lou (Amir Rahimzadeh). Amy is immediately fearful of him — admitting to Vick she fears all of “them” talk to each other — never thinking about using a native Arabic speaker as a resource for her budget sting operation. The film portrays Amy as someone susceptible to recruitment while trying to expose it, but the real terrors unfold in how technology can be used against someone trying to keep their identity hidden and how even a casual slip up can be fatal in a world of undercover amateurs. While this may not have been the message the story was meant to convey, it’s enough for the context of the film.

With too little detail about Amy other than her most recent life situation, it is difficult to say if the character could really fall into such a trap within the month needed to get Bilel on the hook, and that does strain the film’s credibility. That said, it does call attention to the fact that 750 other European women at that time had fallen for such scams, and Amy’s example should be a wake-up call to parents who have no idea what their teens are doing online. A line of dialogue from Bilel is telling: he prefers newly radicalized recruits who can be talked into dying for the cause rather than those born to it who’ve become numb and inactive.

It sounds unlikely a self-styled journalist would throw herself unprepared headlong into such a situation — “I’m the bait, but I’m also the trap.” — but the perception of thinking oneself beyond reach because “social media isn’t real” is a very human trait… and outright false. Put another way, Amy doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. In concept, the message may be muddled by the film, but the lesson in protecting one’s identity is enough to give Profile the benefit of the doubt.

Profile is rated R for language throughout, some disturbing images, and remembering you’re not the only thing appearing on camera.

Three skull recommendation out of four

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