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Comedy, Drama

Ingrid Goes West – How far will a stalker go to befriend her subject?

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What happens when an obsessive, sociopathic Instagram stalker graduates from the digital world and becomes a real-life stalker? Ingrid Goes West brings to life a world that communicates using hashtags, emojis and selfie captions, a world where privacy is lost and the number of followers one has on the social media is a status symbol, a world which is a little too familiar to all of us in this age.

Pennsylvania resident Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation’s iconic April Ludgate) is obsessed with Instagram. So much so that she sleeps with her phone in the hand, masterfully multitasks ‘scrolling through her Instagram feed’ and ‘brushing her teeth’ and smiles away at random Instagram photos while on the toilet. Like any unhealthy obsession, this one too has some serious side-effects.

A very familiar addiction portrayed in Ingrid Goes West

The opening shots do an excellent job of conveying this manic addiction. A few seconds into the movie, we see Ingrid pepper-spraying a stranger, whom she ardently follows on Instagram, for not inviting her to her wedding. A restraining order and some time in a mental health care facility later, Ingrid finds a new person to stalk on Instagram – an LA-based social media influencer and photographer named Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen).

Ingrid goes west car ride

Ingrid is so fixated on Taylor that it seems as if she believes to be living with her. Ingrid laughs with Taylor and even sheds some tears of joy (or perhaps jealousy?) as she watches an Instagram video of Taylor being proposed to by her boyfriend Ezra (Wyatt Russell). Some seemingly harmless social media stalking later, Ingrid decides to ‘follow’ Taylor on Instagram. As soon as she hits that ‘follow’ button, you can sense the impending doom just from the way the scene has been shot (great job by cinematographer Bryce Fortner!). And then, to be close to the object of her Instagram obsession, Ingrid goes west.

When in LA, Ingrid duplicates every little thing that Taylor shares with her ‘Insta fans’ on her Instagram page. She eats Taylor’s favorite food at her favorite restaurant, goes to the same hairstylist and gets her hair dyed, and even reads the same books as her – simply to be a part of Taylor’s perfect little Instagram world.

How far can an obsession take you?

To get even closer to Taylor’s world, Ingrid steals her Instagram idol’s dog from her house and returns him pretending to have found him a few blocks away from her house. With this one deception, she manages to squeeze herself into Taylor and Ezra’s lives. Very soon, a friendship seems to be taking shape, with Ingrid crossing many limits just to be in Taylor’s best books. This is when you as an audience member begin to realize that this is no ‘black comedy’ as the misinformed internet claims, it is an out and out social horror flick.

Ingrid Goes West Peace Sign

When Taylor asks a mechanic to take pictures of her with Ingrid, you see Ingrid’s face light up like never before. Her eyes sparkle like a kid who has just been promised a chocolate. So overpowering is her mania that when Taylor shares their first picture on Instagram, Ingrid prints it out and frames it. The sadness in the fact that something as meager as this is a milestone for Ingrid is abundantly clear from the way the scene has been shot.

The only true relationship we see in the film is the one shared by Ingrid and her landlord/boyfriend Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.). Unfortunately, Ingrid doesn’t seem to appreciate him even as the movie ends. Instead, she constantly takes advantage of him to secure her friendship with Taylor.

The world finally comes crumbling down

Unfortunately, Ingrid’s utopian friendship is forced to come crumbling down to the ground when Taylor’s prying brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) threatens to reveal Ingrid’s secret obsession and lies to his sister. Taylor calls it quits but Ingrid traces her through her Instagram feed, desperately trying to hold on to a broken friendship. However, after being called “sad, pathetic and very sick” by her ‘best’ friend, a rattled Ingrid decides to take some drastic steps against her own life on a live video chat with the followers she amassed through her friendship with Taylor. Luckily, she is saved in time. And the first thing she does when she wakes up on a hospital bed after a near-death experience – looks for her phone.

Ingrid ready to die for social media fame

Ingrid Goes West is quite crisp and well-written, giving multiple layers to its thoughtful narrative. What’s so interesting about the plotline is that it’s not just Ingrid who is obsessive, deceitful and in denial. Taylor is equally as obsessed with her ‘Insta fans’, pretending to like things she doesn’t, even going around claiming her husband’s favorite book to be her favorite book. In barely her second meeting with Ingrid, Taylor proclaims somberly, “you are a really good friend, Ingrid”. If it were a romantic relationship, this would be the definition of moving too fast.

Shielding themselves from pain

It is like Dan says to Ingrid in one of the most real conversations we see in the movie: “Batman’s powers come from within him”. Dan used to wear a Batman mask to his school as a kid to fight the pain of him losing his parents. It helped him pretend that he was someone else and helped him convince himself that all that happened to him in fact happened to someone else. Perhaps that’s what all the characters in this movie are doing, shielding themselves from their different pains by living a lie, living a fantasy. The plot did get somewhat ludicrous with Nicky’s blackmailing, subsequent kidnapping and beating up, but I would let that slide.

The great script is supported by even greater performances by the cast, especially Plaza. Plaza has made me watch so many movies that I may not have heard of had she not starred in them. Her body of work is diverse, and frankly, I think she is quite underrated. After a long time since 2012’s Safety Not Guaranteed, we see her ditch her goofy persona to play Ingrid. She is not living out her own personal life on the screen, something that she hasn’t been able to do in some of her other films like The Little Hours or Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.

Ingrid Goes to West was a perfect role for Aubrey Plaza

In the opening scene itself, Ingrid is shown crying in some closeup shots that are enough to foretell Plaza’s brilliant work in the rest of the film. If it is possible, we see her performance getting better and better during the course of the movie. She lays bare unflinching vulnerability to portray Ingrid’s possessiveness of Taylor and her jealousy towards anyone who would even dare to take her newfound place as Taylor’s confidante. Towards the end of the film, when Ingrid leaves countless voicemails for Taylor, her voice and mood change with each passing voicemail, depicting perfectly her sadness and paranoia. Such an amazing performance.

Instagram fame in Ingrid Goes West

All in all, the story of Ingrid Goes West does not seem outlandish at all, given the frenzied world we live in. The grounded performances by its skilled cast make it all the more believable. I would refrain now from displaying any further signs of my obsession with this movie, other than my staunch opinion that Ingrid Goes West is #Awesome and is definitely #WorthYourTime.

Overall Rating
7.4
Anjaney Kothari
Written By

Anjaney Kothari

Anjaney loved The Amazing Spiderman so much that he ended up getting his PhD in biomedical engineering in 2019. Now, his passion for movies, storytelling and art has trumped his training as a scientist. He shares his love for cinema here, and his artwork on Instagram @kraftykot.

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