NEON (2017)

 

Director: Matt Spicer

 

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, Billy Magnussen, Wyatt Russell, Pom Klementieff, O’Shea Jackson Jr.

Don’t you just hate it when you’re checking out Instagram, only to find there’s a #wedding that you haven't been invited to??

 

It’s a drag.

 

Social media extremist Ingrid Thorburn (Plaza) discovers the crushing news whilst scrolling through her feed – her ‘friend’ Charlotte (Meredith Hagner) is getting hitched and she hasn’t been invited. Well, that’s nothing an uninvited appearance and a can of Mace can’t fix.

Turns out Charlotte was never really Ingrid’s friend, she was her friend in as much as she commented one on of Ingrid’s Instagram posts. A short stint in a mental hospital followed as Ingrid struggles with the loss of her mother. The stretch did little to rehabilitate Ingrid as she immediately latches onto Los Angeles based ‘influencer’ Taylor Sloane (Olsen) and with the $60,000 inheritance received from her mother, she moves to LA to pursue a friendship with the Insta-star.

 

Renting a small apartment from screenwriter and Batman fanatic, Don Pinto (Jackson Jr.), Ingrid sets about hitting Taylor’s favourite haunts from her Instagram, amending her image to reflect the influencer’s before finally bumping into her in a bookstore. She follows Taylor to her home before stealing her dog when she leaves her house. It’s all part of the plan. The next day, Ingrid calls Taylor (via a lost dog notice) and returns the pooch. Ecstatic Taylor and her artist husband, Ezra (Russell), invite Ingrid to stay for dinner. As Ingrid and Taylor become closer, so too do her and Dan (mainly because she needs his truck). But not everything is hunky dory, and Ingrid’s obsessive behaviour doesn’t go unnoticed.

 

Ingrid Goes West delivers a stinging, near scathing, observation at the modern world and the modern way of life. The lust and desire for knowledge of other people’s lives, the need to ‘like’ content from mythical social media ninja’s whose existence relies solely on uploading and hashtagging. Putting yourself out there for the world to see does open up other, more sinister doors – ones that the movie explores and pokes at. It’s not a preachy, judgmental narrative, however. The movie is a pleasant hybrid of black comedy and drama – there are (great) gags throughout, though the humour mainly stems from Plaza’s awkward, blank performance as she raggedly assimilates into the ‘perfect’ life of Taylor. Of course it would be a black comedy, how else would Ingrid be able to steal a dog from someone’s home so easily? Dan’s Batman obsession is near-hilarious – needing to be told that “Gotham needs him” during sex is incredible. There are also plenty of satirical scenes including uber-hipsters that satisfied me no end.

As Ingrid becomes more and more obsessed with the idea of Taylor, she begins to snap images of her bathroom, the art adorning her walls, even the medication she takes in order to replicate her life for herself. There are some great scenes that occur as Ingrid falls deeper into obsession and need – the first time Taylor tags her in an Instagram photo seems like a life goal achieved, her behaviour and instructions to Dan as they attend a pool party thrown by ultra-Insta-star, Harley Chung (Klementieff) are borderline neurotic and the showdown between Ingrid and Taylor’s brother Nicky (Magnussen) is the movies chilling highlight.

 

Plaza is menacingly mesmerizing as the titular character who up sticks and goes west to stalk, I mean, follow her new online obsession. Immediately introduced as plainly unstable, suffering from the passing of her mother, her piercing eyes and unhinged laughter are perfectly utilised to create a paranoid, needy character that doesn’t stray into parody or become OTT. It’s a fantastic performance that really thunders the movie along. Supporting roles from O’Shea Jackson Jr., scene-stealing Billy Magnussen, Elizabeth Olsen and Wyatt Russell only help to enhance the movie further. Jackson Jr. is the authentic, ‘feet on the ground’ character that is blissfully offset against the material world of LA that Ingrid desires and thrusts him in to. Olsen and Russell impress as the seemingly-perfect Insta-couple, believable in all scenes and blurring the lines between victims and antagonists. Russell is certainly better here than he was in Goon: Last of the Enforcers.

 

Spicer and his DoP Bryce Fortner have crafted a beautiful looking movie, worthy of posting online with various hashtags. Certainly, in the movies first half, the vast majority of shots are framed and captured as literal cinematic Instagram images – complete with subtle filters, off-centered composition and hip off-the-track locations, but it’s all done subtly enough and there’s certainly no attempt to be a live-action Instagram feed.

 

At times, Ingrid Goes West may seem as if it is damning the social media craze and the people who do indeed enjoy the use of it. This writer does believe the culture is highly superficial, and the movie makes allusions to it, however, it stops short of launching into a full-tirade and placing the ‘influencers’ as the villains. The one aspect of the movie that I was disappointed with was the conclusion – it isn’t a bad ending, however just minutes earlier, the movie had administered a heavy, deeper beat that would’ve delivered a real statement, unfortunately I feel as if Spicer slightly dropped the ball and feared potential negativity toward that particular conclusion and opted for the final flourish. As I said, it still isn’t a bad ending as it is.

 

Ingrid Goes West is a sharp exploration of the social media-led world we live in today, and the extreme lengths people will go to embrace it, lead it and simply be in the inner circles of it. Social media stalking is real and there have been many reports of actual stalking as a result. It happens. This movie goes some way to showing just how easy it can be. The fearless, powerhouse performance from Aubrey Plaza, carried by an intrepid supporting cast, is the highlight of the movie and one of the year’s best. Ingrid Goes West is entertaining, enthralling and intriguing and you can’t ask for much more than that. Check your privacy settings and close your curtains, Ingrid may just be outside watching.

 

#iamingrid

October 25th 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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