A film review by Craig J. Koban December 6, 2017

INGRID GOES WEST jjj
 

2017, R, 98 mins.

 

Aubrey Plaza as Ingrid Thorburn  /  Elizabeth Olsen as Taylor Sloane  /  O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Dan Pinto  /  Wyatt Russell as Ezra O'Keefe  /  Billy Magnussen as Nicky Sloane  /  Pom Klementieff as Harley Chung  /  Charlie Wright as Chuck  /  Hannah Pearl Utt as Nicole  /  Angelica Amor as Cindy

Directed by Matt Spicer  /  Written by Spicer and David Branson Smith

Social media is a fundamentally powerful force in modern culture, especially as a mass communication medium.  However, it also has a decidedly macabre underbelly as a highly dangerous force of ill will when utilized by the wrong people, which is precisely the main message contained within the exceedingly bleak black comedy INGRID GOES WEST, which concerns a fanatically and clinically sick woman that goes well beyond normal means to become friends with another woman that she's been essentially stalking online via her Instagram page.  

Oftentimes as painful to watch as any modern horror film, director Matt Spicer's effort here delves into the heart of darkness that is a subculture of pathetic and lonely souls that can't form meaningful ties with real people, so they opt to create relationships with popular celebs they follow online.  One of the inherently sad aspects of INGRID GOES WEST is that it concerns the artificiality of these types of relationships and how they implode on themselves. 

That, and the film is an absolute performance tour de force showcase reel for the multi-faceted Aubrey Plaza, who has demonstrated a fearlessness in one film after another harnessing roles that are anything but squeaky clean.  One of the minor miracles of INGRID GOES WEST is that the actress plays one of the most toxically reprehensible characters that I've experienced in any film as of late, but somehow she manages to infuse in this unnerving persona a wounded heart that makes her relatable and oddly sympathetic.  Plaza's work here absolutely pulls no punches, nor does it fall victim to a screenplay that portrays her in a falsely sentimental light: This is a mentally unhealthy woman that's deplorably self-destructive and does unspeakable harm to both herself and others in this film., Nevertheless, Plaza always makes you feel like there's a lost and misguided soul buried deep beneath this social monster that's desperate for love and help.  This is what allows INGRID GOES WEST to rise well above other female centric sociopath thrillers like SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, which many critics have compared this film to. 

 

 

The opening of the film is as chillingly cringe worthy to endure as they come as it introduces us to the titular character Ingrid Thorburn (Plaza) as she's discovering via an Instgaram feed that her "friend" Charlotte (Meredith Hanger) is getting married and did not invite Ingrid to the ceremony.  In a hostile fit of rage, Ingrid violently crashes the reception, fires pepper spray all over Charlotte's face, and calls her a word that definitely would not be family friendly at a wedding at any time.  Ingrid is immediately wrestled to the ground and subsequently and rightfully thrown into a mental hospital, during which time while recovering she pens letters to Charlotte relaying how the death of her mother recently from cancer had immeasurably messed her up.  Ingrid does eventually get released from the institution, but in a pathetic scene that follows she has a chance altercation with one of the wedding guests, who matter of factly explains that Ingrid was never a real friend of Charlotte's, but rather a creepy Internet prowler that believed she was her BFF because of an exchange on one of her Instagram post's comment section. 

Holy.  Shit. 

Things snowball quickly for Ingrid as she tries to return to a life of relative normalcy and emotional health as she stumbles on to the Instagram page of Taylor Sloane (an impeccably well cast Elizabeth Olsen), a social media influencer and celeb with hundreds of thousands of Insta followers that seem to be living vicariously through her every activity that she posts on her feed.  Poor Ingrid is immediately smitten with the relative glitz and glamour of Taylor's page, starts to follow her, and then - dammit - begins commenting on one of her posts, which Taylor innocently replies to and thusly cements a newfound obsession in Ingrid to become besties with her next target.  With $60,000 of her mother's inheritance money, Igrid decides to relocate to L.A. and insinuate herself into Taylor's life by renting a Venice Beach apartment close to where she lives.  Early on Ingrid starts to frequent many of Taylor's favorite spots that she's posted about and even gives herself a makeover to look like her.  She then realizes, though, that she'll have to concoct a scenario that allows herself access to Taylor and foster a future friendship. 

There are so many individual scenes in INGRID GOES WEST that portray the main character as a unfeeling and selfish criminal.  Aside from the aforementioned opening moments of the film, there are latter ones that'll make viewers more than a bit queasy, like how she decides to kidnap Taylor's dog and then return it to her as a way of easily manipulating herself into Taylor's well connected circle of friends.  Hell, she even decides to buy one of her no talent husband's (Wyatt Russell) paintings for thousands as another way of earning Taylor's immediate affection.  Even as Ingrid's faux friendship with Taylor is blossoming there exists a tangible relationship in the making with her landlord (O'Shea Jackson Jr., so remarkably good playing his dad Ice Cube in STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON) that has a romantic interest in her.  Yet, even that gets derailed when Taylor's repellent drug addicted brother (a powder kegged Billy Magnussen) shows up and smells something very, very rotten about Ingrid. 

I'm not sure how I would have responded to INGRID GOES WEST with a less ferociously dedicated actress at the helm than Plaza.  There's rarely a moment when she's not wide eyed and manically insane; it's a performance of simmering and frightening intensity.  Yet, Plaza never makes Ingrid a blank, one-note villain, even after she commits one embarrassing and spiteful act after another.  Ingrid is beyond vile at times and deserving of our hatred, but the manner Plaza gets into her tormented head and hints that there's a humanity that's trying to emerge is one of the film's greatest assets.  This is not only one of the actress' finest and most chameleon like performances, but also one of the most hypnotically terrifying portrayals of 2017.  Complimenting her is Olson, another actress whose catalogue of film choices show rich and eclectic variety.  Her razor sharp focused work as the attention seeking Taylor is almost as eerie, but on a different level; she's a cauldron of non-stop happiness that frequently speaks in hyperbolic compliments and declarations,  but she's arguably as phony as Ingrid in how she lives a false life (she gets paid to peddle products on her Instagram feed, but her followers think she authentically endorses each product without a thought of financial gain).  Ingrid dupes Taylor, for sure, but Taylor also dupes her legion of followers.  The only difference between the pair is that Taylor doesn't engage in sinister criminal behavior. 

INGRID GOES WEST has been often labeled as a comedy, and the film has instances of genuine laughs, but it's more of a nightmarish piece of scathing social commentary with timely observations as to how social media platforms give people a perceived sense of kinship with complete strangers and how said platforms easily erode one's privacy.  Then there's the nagging and unsettling notion of users that instantly buy into what they're liking and favorite-ing online as truth when the veil of fiction is oftentimes the only truth.  Few recent films are as acutely aware and cautionary about the inherent power and pratfalls of social media the way INGRID GOES WEST is, especially for how it fuels the obsessive drives of so many countless nutjobs like Ingrid, a pitiable and soulless junkie that lives every waking moment staring into her phone for some sort of gratification. 

Where INGRID GOES WEST sort of derails is in its tonal execution.  There are too many times when the film plays things a bit too light and bubbly for its own good, considering that, deep down, it's about a social media stalker with a morbid history of abusive behavior.  That, and Spicer crafts a climax and final scene that could have achieved something horrifyingly memorably, but instead cheats a bit and brings everything to a somewhat neat and tidy ending; the ambiguities of what's to come are indeed tantalizing, but it's a cop-out denouement that never seems to trust the underlining material that came before.  Fortunately, INGRID GOES WEST is thoroughly compelling because of Plaza's layered and frightening performance as well as for how it points a large finger wag of shame to those that live and breath by every hashtag they see online.  The topical themes here are - ahem! - #scarystuff.   

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