Jan 3, 2023 | Posted by in Movies

A university student becomes targeted by a webcam stalker in Jon Abrahams’ Exploited.

The internet has become an increasingly fertile ground for a new age of horror movies, from harassing messages whose origin can’t be traced to the cyber realm literally becoming a digital hellscape through which unsuspecting victims are hunted, its potential is only now beginning to be utilised. Its main advantage is that even though it has long become an integral aspect of our everyday lives, actually knowing how it operates is still something of a specialised skill, meaning that those capable of manipulating it to their own ends can wield a formidable level of power when it comes to weaponising it against others.


Life of the party

The latest to wander unsuspectingly into its snare is Brian (Jordan Ver Hoeve), a university freshman who discovers videos on a flash drive of his dorm room’s previous occupant engaging in camming sessions of varying degrees of kink, culminating with him seemingly being murdered, whereupon Brian begins being cyberstalked by a masked individual who seems to know his every move and takes delight in tormenting him. The setup has the potential to drive a sinister slasher story that pulls its protagonist ever further into a sordid mystery, so it becomes increasingly maddening that the film seems almost afraid to live up to such potential, and aside from some inventively nasty ideas realised with some gruesome makeup, there is little true sense of the horror the film wants to be. That said, the tension and mystery are maintained throughout, the seeming omniscience of the stalker keeping them several steps ahead of those being tormented while the gimp mask disguise is crude but effective in both hiding their identity and projecting an air of menace.

The main problem is the lack of focus on a coherent narrative. While Brian attempts to discover what happened to the young man in the videos amidst his new college life of partying and experimentation, the two sides of the plot never properly mesh, leaving each feeling like a distraction from the other. A midway revelation altering what we thought we knew is presented so matter-of-factly it makes you wonder if you missed something earlier, and questions what else you might be assumed to have realised that may be key to the plot.

There is also the issue that few of the characters are in any way likeable. That’s not to say it isn’t perfectly possible to weave a compelling story around complete scumbags, but each of them are in various ways so fundamentally self-absorbed it’s difficult to muster much in the way of sympathy for them, as each becomes trapped largely by the poor and selfish decisions they make. We get little idea about the personalities of these people, only how much they’re willing to use those around them to validate themselves, and while unlike his new friends Brian never actively does anything wrong, he’s so easily manipulated by obvious falsehoods he becomes frustrating to watch rather than someone you directly root for.


Ignoring distractions

On the positive side of things, the film’s commitment to its queer overtones is commendable. Too often such representation is insignificant and serves little more than as a box-ticking exercise, but it’s made clear that Brian is still coming to terms with accepting his sexuality, the confusion he harbours about who he truly is playing into how unsure he can be of what’s going on around him. Also, the portrayal of various sex games is refreshingly non-judgmental, acknowledging that the kinky things people are into might appear odd to some, but when engaged in private and consensual environments they don’t actually hurt anyone.

A fundamental issue is the title of the film not really making sense when applied to its plot. The name conjures up images of broke students turning to online sex work to make ends meet, and there’s an interesting story to be told comparing those who do it out of enjoyment and those because they have no other choice, and how this intersects with someone targeting them because of it. However, very little happens that’s exploitative in the true sense of the word (unless you metafictionally include the things some of the actors do as part of their performance), leaving it more of a mystery about what may or may not be evidence of a murder and the lengths its perpetrator will go to avoid being identified. It really only has relevance in a context that’s impossible to go into specifics about without dropping a massive spoiler, which ultimately makes you question exactly what kind of story the film thinks it’s telling. It has some messaging about the capacity for filmed media to manipulate the perception of truth, and manages to avoid the pitfall of descending into oblivious irony of a movie being unaware of its own artificiality when making such a point, but like much of everything else the film is trying to say, it doesn’t commit enough to adequately articulate it.


Searching for the truth


Exploited had the potential to be a compelling exploration into how the digital age has made stalking and harassment even easier for its perpetrators, or a traditional slasher augmented by the use of contemporary technology. However, while it certainly has aspects to recommend it, they’re not significant enough to balance out its narrative and character shortcomings, leaving the whole experience feeling like a frustrating exercise in wasted potential.

  • Exploited


Kneel Before…

  • the sinister mystery
  • the queer overtones


Rise Against…

  • the unfocused plot
  • poor characterisation
  • selfish and unlikeable characters
  • the title making little sense in the context of the story


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