Ingrid Goes West (2017) (Review)

Ingrid Goes West may not be classified as a horror film but it's pretty damn scary nonetheless. Delving into the digital age and Generation Millennials' usage of social media, Ingrid Goes West is a biting rumination and social commentary on the dangers of losing yourself and creating someone new in your online space. Marking Matt Spicer's feature-length directorial debut, Ingrid Goes West is impressive piece and the start of what should be a healthy career for Spicer.

Ingrid Thorburn's (Aubrey Plaza) mental instability, the death of her mother and her social media obsession lead her to attack a woman at her wedding and she winds up on a psychiatric ward. Taking her inheritance money, she moves to Los Angeles and begins to stalk a social media influence, Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). Blindsided by Taylor's glamorous life, Ingrid goes to extreme lengths to befriend her, developing a following of her own so she can live the life she's already dreamt of - but, as with every representation on social media, not everything is as it seems...

While Black Mirror has the small screen covered, Ingrid Goes West is one of the smartest explorations of technology and social media the big screen has seen in quite some time. It considers the potential danger of an over-reliance on social media, and how it can sometime substitute for real, human interaction, without ever turning it into 'the big bad'. It never blames the Internet for the situation our characters find themselves in, but the culture it breeds - one of self-image, self-perfection and toxicity, thoughtfully and considerately presenting these characters (particularly Ingrid) as a victim to this larger phenomenon.

Ingrid commits some dreadful acts over the course of the film; her actions filled with hate and rage and jealousy - but you always feel for her, perhaps even relate to her. She's desperate to be liked (figuratively and literally) and so frames herself in the prettiest light to the world, presenting herself so the world can be her friend. We've all been there too; we've exaggerated something on Twitter to make our lives seem better; we've deliberately plotted to post something on Instagram at the busiest time of the day, opening yourself to more people; we've all posted something on Snapchat for the attention of just one person. And the script understands and acknowledges that, capturing that very notion in a scathing but emphatic way. David Branson Smith and Spicer's screenplay find flawed characters and turn them into something very human and recognisable.

Furthermore, they balance the film's swirling tones incredibly well. Ingrid Goes West is a very dark film, with a tragic core that is all-too-relatable and a foreboding ending that implies the cycle will never be broken. But beyond the scorching satire is a frothiness and a lightness, created by how very, very funny the film is. In a similar (if not as polished) way to Get Out earlier this year, Ingrid Goes West balances its conflicting tones and genres with immense satisfaction and skill, delivering a potent and timely feature-length that leaves its mark through its eclectic combination of mood and tone. Smith and Spicer prevent the characters from becoming too caricature, offering at least some restraint as the absurdity of the narrative escalates.

And to sell the comedy aspect, the film has roped in one of the most under-rated comedians of her generation. Aubrey Plaza is tailor-made for the role of Ingrid, with her deadpan humour, almost awkward disposition, striking  intensity and vulnerability making her an excellent choice to portray the unstable soul. She bears the emotional and comedic weight of the film excellently and in a surprisingly nuanced manner, with a performance that deserves to be recognised in forthcoming award season: I'll start the campaign for a Golden Globe now. Similarly impressive is Elizabeth Olsen, who indulges in the role of Taylor Sloane gleefully; she is another stellar casting decision, with her glowing, picture-perfect looks and radiating pretence more than suited to the role of the social influencer. The supporting cast are largely solid, but Olsen and especially Plaza dominate the film with two fantastic performances.

Spicer's work, for a first time direction, is mightily impressive, enhanced by Bryce Fortner's exquisite cinematography. Everything is drenched in the colourful visuals that are perfectly suited to the Venice Beach setting. Like something lifted straight from Instagram, beautiful filters in tact, the film is not only a very polished piece, but an effectively streamlined one too: clocking in at only 97 minutes, it never overstays its welcome and is focused on the task at hand. A clunky, rather needless romance B-plot aside, the film develops the relationship between Ingrid and Taylor in a witty, increasingly uneasy way that is reminiscent of Single White Female. The tension Spicer builds between them is feverous and explores their toxic, favour of the month identities in a solid manner. It's very skilled direction and Spicer looks set to have a solid career ahead of them if the competency found within Ingrid Goes West is anything to go by.

Jonathan Sadoff and Nick Thorburn's score is very effective in bringing the digital world: ringtones and phone beeps are interlaced throughout the score, alongside a tropical, spritely atmosphere that enlivens the California setting and keeps you on the edge of your seat. The soundtrack released alongside has some fine additions too, including a plot-pivotal All My Life by K-Ci & Jo Jo.

Ingrid Goes West is dark and self-aware exploration of social media, striking the perfect tonal balance in thanks to its satirical screenplay and marvellous lead performances. The visuals are lovely, the direction rather tight and the humour continually funny and topical, presenting audiences with a polished, timely and vividly-realised package all the better for its relevancy and accuracy.

I do hope you see Ingrid Goes West. 🙏🏻 #love #IAmIngrid


Summary: Ingrid Goes West is a scorching, shockingly-relevant rumination on the digital age and our toxic need for the self-perfected social media persona, with Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen shining as unaware victims of a toxic, dark but sadly recognisable culture.