After losing her job, a young woman finds a new career as a social media influencer, however, she soon experiences the darker side of this lifestyle as her online personas begin to take over her life in director Fraser Hinch’s technological thriller Program.
Over the last 10 years, nothing has grown more rapidly than Social media; according to recent reports, almost 50% of the world’s entire population are active on it. Amongst social media users, there are a number of people who have become what is now known as “influencers”. Influencers can be anybody from huge celebrity names who already have large profiles, to average, everyday people who, thanks to a niche skillset, cleverly marketed video, or just plain luck, have managed to garner a huge number of likes, followers, and friends. By making regular posts, clips, and videos on their social media channels, influencers can generate huge followings of enthusiastic, engaged people who pay close attention to their every word.
Fraser Hinch, along with his colleagues at The National Youth Film Academy, takes a look at the darker side of the social media influencer by focusing on a lonely young outcast called Jean and her different social media profiles. It’s a mixture of teen drama and sci-fi with elements of horror and. although it doesn’t quite work, there are some interesting ideas and talking points that deserve a closer look.
Opening with Jean (played by actor Obsydian Foster) busily typing away on her laptop, we are introduced to her life of mess, bedsits, and unreliability. Online until the early hours of the morning and suffering from insomnia brought on from being in front of a screen all night, Jean has no concept of time or responsibility. After oversleeping, she is fired from her job and is left to find her way through life alone. With nowhere to go but the internet, Jean begins to use her political beliefs and photo-editing skills to become an influencer, gaining a decent following and a modicum amount of fame in the process.
Obsydian Foster is an interesting actor who is given the task of carrying the film as Jean; she provides us with a lonely outsider whose vulnerability, while being her biggest asset, is also her largest downfall. Director Hinch manages to frame some nice moments of Jean amongst the emptiness of her flat and his cinematographer Sador Zerie cleverly makes a small bedsit seem much larger with the sparseness and complete whiteness seemingly symbolising Jean’s loneliness. There is also a lovely shot at a dockside of Jean and her brother between two archway exits, it’s well framed and looks great leaving an indelible impression. Hinch is also no stranger to the irony of the story either, we are always aware that no matter how popular Jean becomes online she remains standoffish and constantly alone in her real life.
As Jean delves deeper into the online world she begins to see visions of her different online personas. This is easily the most successful part of the film with some simple visual fx of colour changes and picture distortions creating three distinctly different characters, one an activist, one a health and beauty guru, and another a villain – all of whom plague Jean with ideas of differing quality and usefulness. Out of all the ensemble, it is Rachel Woodward Carlton as social media guru Jen who comes out the best, as her performance and delivery are very strong. She manages to light up the screen despite having relatively little to do and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the young actor go on to bigger and better things.
The script written by Charlotte Christie and Lauren Hogg has a good ear for modern dialogue although it takes on a little too much with subplots involving Jean’s brother and a potential romance with the boy next door falling a little flat. There are also a couple of continuity errors dotted around the 20-minute run time which spoils the flow of the narrative a little, but that is just a hazard of low budget film making. All that said, director Hinch and his collaborators give us an enjoyable cautionary tale that tips its hat to The Blair Witch Project and Tod Browning’s Freaks as it reaches its dramatic crescendo.