There are movies, and there are movies. On some level, movie narrative adheres to the same basic approach.
We, the viewers, are voyeurs witnessing events unfolding in a cinematic world based alive with characters, locations and situations either real or digitally rendered.
But the computer age has created its own reality that has become all too familiar to most of us. It is a world unto itself.
We’ve often glimpsed computer screens and displays in movies of the last couple of decades, but no one, to my knowledge has focused on a computer screen for an entire movie with all the action and narrative taking place within the confines of a 15-inch monitor.
It’s a bold experiment. And it’s refreshing when filmmakers step off the beaten path to take a fresh approach and challenge themselves.
Hitchcock comes to mind, with movies like Lifeboat (1944) which takes place within the confines of a lifeboat adrift at sea during WWII, or Rope (1948) in which Hitchcock, known for his montage sequences and editing style, set about to make a feature film with no cuts or edits.
Movies like these sometimes become footnotes in the history of the cinema.
Flash forward to 2018 and Kazakh-Russian film director Timur Bekmambetov decided to tell a contemporary suspense story within the confines of a computer screen.
It’s the story, based on actual events, in which a British journalist becomes involved in a dangerous assignment by creating a false identity in order to investigate the plight of an alarming number of young women being recruited by ISIS fighters in Syria.
After being lured into leaving their homes, many of the women find it impossible to return to their families.
Their fate is brutal, some are sold into sexual slavery; some are stoned to death.
The journalist decides to risk everything, including her very life, if she is caught in this deadly game of computerized cat and mouse.
The movie begins with the opening shot of her computer screen where we will spend the next 105 minutes, where she logs on and begins to create her false identity, posing as a 19-year-old virgin who wants to embrace the Muslim faith.
Before long, she attracts the attention of a ruggedly handsome ISIS fighter by the name of Bilel, who immediately begins to flatter her, charm her and profile her.
It moves at a pretty quick pace, reflective of the director’s style evidenced in his previous movies such as the vampire flicks Night Watch (2004), Day Watch (2006) or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012).
Who knew that Abraham Lincoln had time in the middle of being the President of the United States during the Civil War to hunt down and kill 19th century vampires?
In Profile, Bekmambetov ramps up the pace to an exhilarating level with Amy, our journalist, flashing back and forth with texts, online conversations and Skype so rapidly that you squirm with the anticipation that she is going to slip up.
In addition to her exchanges with Bilel, she is also in contact with her editor (keeping her updated on her progress), a computer savvy colleague who speaks Arabic, her boyfriend (who is helping her shop for an apartment online), her landlord reminding her that her rent is overdue, and her sister who is brimming with questions about Amy and her new mystery man.
It’s a lot to juggle, and the rapid fire bouncing back and forth creates a real sense of drama, particularly when you realize that Amy is winging it and in way over her head.
She knows that she needs to play her part convincingly and play the game to the very end if she wants to tell the story in its entirety, revealing exactly how these women are lured into recruitment, including complex travel arrangements and secret communications with their recruiters.
Another level of drama unfolds when you start to question whether Amy is being a dogged investigator immersing herself in her assignment or whether she is forming a romantic bond with Bilel, despite her better judgement and common sense.
It’s at this point that the story might start to lose credibility, despite the assurances that the movie is based on actual events.
As always, I won’t give away the ending.
To its credit, Profile never shifts its focus on Amy’s computer screen with all the flashing displays or pop-ups. The experience is one of looking over her shoulder the whole time.
Interestingly, Profile might be that rare movie that actually plays better on a TV screen or computer screen than it would on a movie screen in a theater.
Profile creates a sense of immediacy and familiarity that we can all relate to.
From a purely filmmaking perspective, it’s a brilliant approach to making a movie in record time with limited resources (actors and sets). It only took nine days to shoot.
While Profile may not be Oscar-worthy in the end, it does open up a new direction in terms of narrative possibilities in the digital age. And it gets credit for that.
Profile opens in theaters Friday, May 14.