Berlin Film Review: ‘Profile’

The all-online gimmick of 'Unfriended' gets a terrorist twist in Timur Bekmambetov's silly but absorbing age-of-ISIS thriller.

Timur Bekmambetov
Valene Kane, Shazad Latif

1 hour 45 minutes

Say what you will about genre-hopping Kazakh export Timur Bekmambetov: His career keeps you guessing, even when his films don’t. Rarely has a director’s filmography threaded two films as improbably consecutive as 2016’s misguided “Ben-Hur” remake and now “Profile,” a fast, lurid online-terror thriller that you’d describe as a curio if its helmer weren’t hell-bent on making the all-in-one-computer-screen movie a veritable subgenre.

Unlike the Bekmambetov-produced tension exercises “Unfriended” and “Search,” however, “Profile” aims for ripped-from-the-headlines social import, as it follows an intrepid but increasingly ill-advised London journalist in her quest to bait and expose an ISIS recruiter through Skype and social media. Loosely drawn from the experiences of French reporter Anna Erelle, this is an undeniably engrossing but almost entirely specious affair: Any factual grounding gives way beneath the film as it devolves into shrill heart-versus-head melodrama.

After the rather raggedly synthetic-looking “Ben-Hur” failed to fill the big screen with spectacle even remotely equivalent to its 1959 predecessor, perhaps Bekmambetov was wise to set his sights smaller: “Profile,” which has no credited director of photography, certainly boasts more convincing CGI, if that term can be applied to the film’s shuffling set of digital interfaces and applications, from FaceTime to YouTube to iTunes — the latter providing a sporadic score of ambient soundtrack cues with increasingly amusing implausibility.

All the action, seemingly spanning a period of several weeks, thus plays out on the laptop of 30-something Amy Whittaker (Irish actress Valene Kane, giving it her all), a struggling, perma-stressed freelance journo pitching a potentially career-making story to hard-nosed TV news editor Vick (Christine Adams). With reports piling up of disaffected young European women being recruited into ISIS via assorted online platforms, Amy resolves to create a new online identity as a naive Muslim convert, dangling herself on Facebook as jihadist bait, uncovering the terrorist organization’s recruitment and enslavement tactics in the process.

It’s a suitably hooky prospect, and before long Amy is hitting up the internet for video tutorials on hijab-wrapping and age-concealing makeup techniques — though that seems to be the full extent of her research. If the technical environment of “Profile” is authentically rendered, with its relentless, eye-tiring skipping between programs and pop-up video calls, its grasp on journalistic practice is markedly less convincing, as Amy and Vick hurtle into this dangerous project with minimal, monosyllabic preparation and discussion. The familiar sound effects of BBC News are faintly heard in the background of one of Vick’s curt messages, but you could just as easily believe that Amy has secured this scoop for Babe.net.

Perhaps there’s a degree of cynical news-world satire in the antsy screenplay by Bekmambetov, Brittany Poulton and Olga Kharina, but Amy’s own scattershot lack of caution still strains credibility when, seemingly after mere minutes of posing as soft-spoken 19-year-old “Mellody” as Facebook, she catches the attention of Bilel (the promising Shazad Latif), a handsome, British, plainly psychotic ISIS hotshot whose own social media brand is a winning mix of cat GIFs and decapitation videos. Soon, assisted by Muslim IT assistant Lou (Amir Rahimzadeh), she’s recording her frequent video chats with the Kalashnikov-brandishing monster, which swiftly take a turn for the seductive — all while she’s fending off impatient inquiries from her understandably bewildered boyfriend Matt (Morgan Watkins) and morbidly intrigued BFF Kathy (Emma Cater).

So far so nervily compelling, but once Amy begins secretly cutting Lou out of her growingly intimate exchanges with Bilel, seemingly falling for his calculated patter of sweet talk and sob stories, “Profile” takes a turn into irretrievably loopy territory that no amount of “based on a true story” claims can dignify. Taken on those renegotiated terms, “Profile” remains effective as a nerve-jangling genre teacup ride, directed by Bekmambetov with gaudy whipcrack restlessness.

The tab containing any meaningful insights into the nature of modern-day terrorism and the ethical lines of media coverage, however, is rarely clicked on. “It’s the fear that is killing us… THE FEAR!” Amy types at one point to her increasingly wary editor, who by this point is probably contemplating a kill fee in more ways than one. Bekmambetov’s cumulatively hysterical film begins as a study of terror before lurching into something closer to horror: Suddenly a mash-up of the online universes of “Profile” and “Unfriended,” in which neither one can be taken more seriously than the other, starts to make a lot of sense.

Berlin Film Review: 'Profile'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Special), Feb. 17, 2018. Running time: 105 MIN.

Production: (U.S.-U.K.-Cyprus-Russia) A Bazelevs Entertainment production. (International sales: Endeavor Content, Los Angeles.) Producers: Timur Bekmambetov, Olga Kharina. Executive producers: Adam Sidman, Rick Sobalvarro, Igor Tsay, Maria Zatulovskaya.

Crew: Director: Timur Bekmambetov. Screenplay: Bekmambetov, Brittany Poulton, Olga Kharina, adapted from the book "In the Skin of a Jihadist" by Anna Erelle. Editor: Andrey Shugaev.

With: Valene Kane, Shazad Latif, Morgan Watkins, Amir Rahimzadeh, Emma Cater. (English, Arabic dialogue)

More Film

  • 'All These Small Moments' Review

    Film Review: 'All These Small Moments'

    The magic of writer-director Melissa B. Miller Costanzo’s “All These Small Moments” can be found within the intimacy of the scenarios, the authenticity of her earnest characterizations, and the accessibility of the actors’ honest performances. In her deftly polished directorial debut, Costanzo dovetails the primary story about a teen’s coming of age with a secondary [...]

  • Bruce Tufeld Dead: Hollywood Agent and

    Hollywood Agent and Manager Bruce Tufeld Dies at 66

    Bruce Tufeld, a Hollywood agent and manager who once repped stars like Rob Lowe, Laura Dern, and Kelsey Grammer, died Tuesday in Los Angeles as a result of complications from liver cancer. He was 66. The son of respected television announcer Richard “Dick” Tufeld and Adrienne Tufeld, Bruce began his career as an assistant at ICM [...]

  • Bruce Dern

    Film News Roundup: Bruce Dern's 'The Lears' Bought by Vertical for February Release

    In today’s film news roundup, Bruce Dern’s “The Lears” and “Angels Are Made of Light” are acquired, Cold War drama “Stanley Cage” is launched and a documentary about Madonna’s early music career gets a release. ACQUISITIONS Vertical Entertainment has acquired North American rights from NeoClassics Films to “The Lears,” starring Bruce Dern in a modern-day [...]

  • Octavia Spencer Bryce Dallas Howard

    Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard to Reunite for Comedy 'Fairy Tale Ending'

    Octavia Spencer and Bryce Dallas Howard will reunite for the ensemble comedy “Fairy Tale Ending.” Jim Hecht (“Ice Age: The Meltdown) and Tracy McMillan (“Marvel’s Runaways”) are writing the screenplay. Howard will also produce the Universal movie through her Nine Muses Entertainment alongside Eric Carlson and Susan Carlson. Seth MacFarlane and Erica Huggins will produce [...]

  • Robert Smith, Longtime Executive at DuArt

    Robert Smith, Longtime Executive at New York's DuArt Film Labs, Dies at 88

    Robert Smith, a longtime executive with New York’s DuArt Film Labs, died Jan. 11 in Montvale, N.J. He was 88. Smith spent some 62 years with DuArt, the film processing and post-production facility founded in 1922 in the penthouse of an automobile garage in Midtown. Smith rose to president of DuArt before retiring in 2015. [...]

  • Bird Box

    Los Angeles On-Location Feature Filming Surges 12.2% in 2018

    On-location feature filming in Greater Los Angeles expanded impressively in 2018, gaining 12.2% to 4,377 shooting days, according to FilmL.A. Production activity for feature films rose 15.5% to 1,078 shooting days during the fourth quarter, with 146 days coming from projects receiving California tax credits — including Netflix’s “Bird Box,” Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content