The rising subgenre of "movies that take place entirely on a computer screen" has mostly been relegated to the horror genre. 2018's Searching was more of a thriller and an effective one to boot. Last year's Host was an effective horror film via a Zoom call gone wrong. Profile is the first film of this subgenre that strives for realness. While it is an ambitious film, it often veers into an unrealistic territory and the computer screen gimmick limits the film's effectiveness.
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, who produces the Unfriended films, Profile is based on a novel by reporter Anna Erelle. Erelle was a journalist who posed as a young teenage girl in order to uncover ISIS recruitment practices. The film stars Irish actress Valene Kane. Kane plays Amy, a 30-something freelance journalist who thinks this story is her chance at a permanent gig for a TV news station. We learn plenty about Amy's personal life as we look at her laptop screen, see video chats with her fiancé Matt (Morgan Watkins) and read her texts and emails. Amy should be a sympathetic and intriguing main character. We understand her fascination with young girls from the UK who end up joining ISIS. However, the film writes Amy as a rash and a rather ignorant journalist who makes obvious mistakes so often that we start to not care if she is putting herself in danger.
This is the film's main flaw. We want to care about Amy but she makes such rookie mistakes it is hard to believe she has been a journalist for a number of years. Amy poses as a young girl named Melody on Facebook who has recently converted and immediately gains the attention of an ISIS recruiter named Bilel (Shazad Latif). Soon they meet via Skype and flirt and talk about when she can join Bilel in Syria and become his wife. Latif is very effective here, giving Bilel charm and menace in nearly every moment. We see how a young girl could be manipulated by such a figure. This is when Profile is at its best.
As Amy continues the charade in order to learn more about how young girls get to Syria, she starts to become obsessed with Bilel. This is where the film started to lose me. Amy may be falling for his charms but would a journalist be dumb enough to use a personal phone to call him, exposing her real identity to a killer. I didn't buy it alongside many of Amy's mistakes. Part of the issue is the film isn't really focused on how an overly eager journalist can take risks in order to get a story. The film is rather about how young girls get recruited to ISIS. This mixed focus causes the final act of the film to fail.
While Profile may not be entirely effective, it does hit on some very real things in our modern world. This recruitment happens and Bilel is truly a scary figure. He feels real thanks to Latif's great performance. I am happy to see this sub-genre move into storytelling of a more real-life variety.