*Spoilers for Black Mirror: Nosedive to follow*
Although entirely separate entities, Matt Spicer’s dark social media satire Ingrid Goes West picks up almost directly where Black Mirror season three’s people rating episode left off.
Like Bryce Dallas Howard’s Lacie before her, Ingrid Thorburn (perma-sullen Parks and Recreation star Aubrey Plaza) has been left off of the invite list of a friend’s wedding, and is intent on revenge.
Tear-stained and armed with a can of pepper spray, she storms into the after-party and unloads its contents into the bride’s face before sprinting away. Sadly, it leads her to institutionalisation rather than peace of mind. Yet while Black Mirror ends with Lacie in prison, things only go downhill from here for the indie film’s protagonist.
Spicer’s film is a dark look at the effect of social media on mental health shot with an “indie comedy” Instagram filter and unlike Brooker’s disturbing dystopia, it is set in the real world. This sleek, colourful gloss is constantly undermined by the grim events unfolding on screen, as Ingrid continues to dig herself deeper and deeper into a hole that is ultimately going to collapse into itself.
Soon after the events at the wedding, it becomes clear that Ingrid’s issues run deep: as it turns out, she barely knew the girl whose wedding she crashed, and had developed an obsession by stalking her on Instagram. In reality, she doesn’t have any friends at all.
Having been blocked by the bride, she sets her sights on a new internet idol: “proud Angelino” Taylor Sloane, a typically alluring, yet ultimately vacuous Insta-celeb. Taylor – impeccably played by Elizabeth Olsen – is the type of girl who quotes authors whose books she has never read, and names their cute handbag dogs after modern artists (in this case, Mark Rothko).
Determined not to repeat the mistakes of her past, Ingrid up and leaves her hometown of Pennsylvania and assimilates herself in LA using up the $60,000 inheritance left by her recently deceased mother. With a few cunning schemes – and a touch of dognapping – she is soon able to construct a friendship with her Insta-idol.
While the move opens the film up to fantastic, heavy-handed satire – she is greeted in an organic-type cafe by the question “how may I nourish you today?”, and Taylor’s husband (Wyatt Russell), a prospective pop-art painter, stencils inane phrases like “Squad Goals” over flea-market paintings – things turn sour pretty quickly. Her web of lies begins to unravel as the film moves into its uncomfortable second hour. From here, it gets closer to a psychological thriller as we anxiously await Ingrid’s inevitable demise.
Plaza plays the lightly deranged Ingrid with admirable dedication: at times, the way she looks at Olsen is genuinely haunting. She manages to give the character depth and to invite sympathy making the real horror of the tale the grim effects Instagram can have on vulnerable people rather than Ingrid’s own internal issues.
There are laughs, sure. O’Shea Jackson Jr (Straight Outta Compton) provides some comic relief as the only decent human on show – a Batman-obsessed wannabe screenwriter who crushes on Ingrid in spite of her deep-rooted issues. But the film runs on anxious energy more than anything else – it is hard to watch at times because we know the rug is likely to be pulled from under us at any moment.
Sadly, as interesting as the premise may be, Spicer never quite manages to answer his own questions. And while the story’s conclusion is satisfactory, the ideas lurking beneath the surface are never realised as fully as a typical episode of Brooker’s series.
But it should be praised for oft dead-on skewering of the most infuriating reaches of social media, and, more importantly, offering up a frightening critique of the correlation between mental health in young people and increased activity on social media.
Ingrid Goes West is released in UK cinemas on Friday 17th November.