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Blu-ray Review: Profile

August 10, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

A British journalist befriends an ISIS recruiter online in Profile, director Timur Bekmambetov’s surprisingly engaging thriller which takes place entirely on a computer screen.

Bekmambetov is no stranger to this format, having produced the two Unfriended films and Aneesh Chaganty’s acclaimed Searching. While Profile is not quite as good as Searching in terms of these so-called computer screen thrillers, it’s still an unsettling little piece of work that makes the most of this somewhat gimmicky style.

The desktop we are watching belongs to Amy Whittaker (Valene Kane), an investigative reporter on assignment who sets up a fake Facebook profile as Melody Nelson, a 20-year-old convert to Islam who lives in England and wants to join the Islamic State. She almost instantly connects with Bilel (Shazad Latif), a British-born ISIS recruiter living in Syria who brags of the atrocities he has committed on behalf of the caliphate.

Through their video chats, which make up the bulk of the film’s dramatic scenes, the arrogant Bilel starts pressuring Melody to marry him and make the trip to Syria, where he promises her that she can start a new life. Amy must meet with him enough to get him comfortable with giving her the information that she needs for her report, but as their connection deepens, it becomes harder for her to keep her real identity a secret, and some boundaries start to be crossed.

The story is loosely based on In The Skin of a Jihadist, a non-fiction book by French journalist Anna Erelle who really went undercover as a Muslim convert and befriended an ISIS recruiter online as part of her investigation. Because of its real world connections, Profile is able to build a solid amount of tension, even if dramatic liberties have been taken. The film is heavily inspired by stories of the real ISIS brides, the women and girls who left Europe to join ISIS, with a subplot focusing on a teen girl (Eloise Thomas) seen in YouTube videos who made the trek to Syria with tragic results.

In order to build tension right from the start, Bekmambetov capitalizes on the anxious feeling of having too many tabs open and multiple messages popping up all at once. While the film’s setting is confined to a single computer, the screen is often busy and chaotic in terms of visual stimuli. The film is padded out with some domestic drama involving Amy’s boyfriend (Morgan Watkins), who needs the money from her advance on the story to help pay the rent on a new place, and added pressure comes from an editor (Christine Adams) who is breathing down her neck waiting for the story.

There are a few more frustrating moments when Amy is shown making some careless, rookie mistakes that a good investigative journalist likely wouldn’t do, including showing the train tracks outside her window and having her dog bark in the background, with dogs, of course, being haram. The film depicts her as generally inexperienced for the investigation, scrambling to learn how to wear a hijab moments before her first Skype call, and learning the customs as she goes along. But Profile does such a good job of holding us in suspense that it’s easy to overlook these points when caught up in the story.

The film actually premiered at Berlin way back in 2018, and is finally arriving on Blu-ray after a short theatrical run earlier this year, which means that it was made when stories of the ISIS Brides were very much in the news. One of the more interesting aspects of the film is how it shows Amy getting sucked into Bilel’s world, showing how effective the recruitment tactics are and how easy it is for someone to be brainwashed. The result is a tense, anxiety-inducing film that plays out with a real world sense of dread, and got under my skin in a way that I wasn’t really expecting.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray includes no bonus features. A code for a digital copy is included in the package, which comes with a non-embossed slipcover.

Profile is a Universal Home Entertainment release. It’s 106 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: August 10th, 2021

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