PROFILE (2021)

Valene Kane stars as Amy and Shazad Latif as Abu Bilel in Timur Bekmambetov’s "Profile," a Focus Features release.

From the producer of “Unfriended,” “Unfriended: Dark Web,” and “Searching” comes the latest thriller to utilize the Screenlife format where the entire film transpires over different screens including computer, tablet and cell phones. Valene Kane (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) plays a British journalist named Amy who creates a fake Facebook account to pose as a Muslim convert and ISIS supporter in order to expose the terrorist organization’s sex slave operation, which lures young girls worldwide. Shazad Latif plays the charismatic London-born ISIS recruiter who makes contact with Amy leading to a tense game of cat and mouse in the captivating thriller inspired by a true story.

Based on the 2015 non-fiction bestseller “In the Skin of a Jihadist” by French journalist Anna Erelle, director Timur Bekmambetov researched his film by meeting with Erelle under extreme precaution now that she’s forced to live undercover with 24/7 police protection after exposing the terrorist group’s human trafficking scheme. Bekmambetov was given access to Erelle’s laptop to view the Skype recordings and conversations she had with ISIS recruiter Abu Bilel, played in the film by Shazad Latif (“Star Trek: Discovery”) whose magnetic performance demonstrates how the recruiter was able to brainwash so many young women.

“Profile” is not an exact representation of Erelle’s experience, moving the setting from Paris to London; however, Bekmambetov, along with cowriters Britt Poulton and Olga Kharina, remains true to the story by keeping many of the details intact including some actual events and verbatim exchanges.

Amy Whittaker is a 26-year-old freelance reporter who just finished producing a piece for broadcast television about a young British girl who converted to Islam then moved to Syria after being recruited by ISIS. The story ends tragically as the young woman is stoned to death after trying to flee the militant group. Amy decides on a follow-up segment aimed at exposing the terrorist organization’s recruitment process. In essence, she’d be putting her life on the line should anything go wrong but as an aspiring journalist, Amy believes it’s a risk worth taking that could boost her career.

The film moves at a breakneck pace as Amy opens one window after another on her computer — her desktop fills the entire movie screen — going to Facebook to create a fake account under Melody Nelson, finding an avatar online, sharing ISIS propaganda on her timeline, while friending other young female converts who have joined the cause. At the same time, she’s juggling Skype calls from her boyfriend Matt (Morgan Watkins), her bestie Kathy (Emma Cater), and her editor-producer Vick (Christine Adams).

It’s great that Amy is a millennial and can maneuver tech quite rapidly. If the character was my age (mid-50s), the action would move at a crawl as she accidentally closes out windows and clicks where she shouldn’t, turning “Profile” into a 4-hour Zack Snyder cut. On the other hand, if Amy were actually 19, the age of her Facebook alias Melody, or younger, the film would become a short and dizzying experience as the action would move at double the speed as if The Flash had taken over the keyboard. I can imagine Amy screaming “Done!” after closing out each window as if I’d asked my kids to help with something on my laptop or cell phone.

It doesn’t take long for Amy’s new social media alias to catch the attention of Abu Bilel. Their chats go from Messenger to Skype as Abu begins the seduction game. As time goes on, Amy gets in deeper and over her head as Abu proposes and offers to bring her to Syria. The tension mounts as Amy struggles to keep from being caught meanwhile Abu becomes suspicious; however, neither of them backs down creating an emotional entanglement thus complicating the situation.

If you’ve seen “Unfriended” or “Searching,” then you know what to expect. Bekmambetov has become proficient at utilizing the Screenlife format to tell a compelling story without boring the audience that is forced to stare at a desktop for almost two hours. Valene Kane and Shazad Latif complement each other with impressive performances that engage the viewer. “Profile” is a worthy thriller based on a true story that should keep you on the edge of your seat.

Now, if Bekmambetov gets tired of this format, can I make a request for “Twilight Watch” the third film in Sergey Lukyanenko’s horror saga? “Night Watch” and “Day Watch” remain two of the most underrated horror films directed by Bekmambetov in 2004 and 2006.

(3 stars)

Opens Thursday in select theaters including Cinemark 12 Victoria

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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