REVIEW- Social Animals: A slick documentary that examines how Instagram affects the people behind the profile

Social Media has given rise to opportunities and platforms as never before experienced. Whatever your passion, your art, your niche, you can find an audience for it and go viral- the term for fame formed through the endless sprawl of social media. Social Animals takes three case studies that showcase the vast unpredictability, as well as the depths and heights of the social media generation.

Our three subjects are @kaylynslevin, a dancer and aspiring model, @humzadeas, a photographer and urban explorer, and our girl next door @emmsrobinson. Each of them tell of their own particular relationship with Instagram. From Saylin’s determination to become a fashion brand and influencer, to Humza’s artistic success, and Emma’s tale of bullying, depression, and isolation. The film really works to capture the world of the Instagram ‘generation’. The filmmakers utilise handles in the credits to thrust the viewer into the online world the moment they turn on the film. There are comments and direct messages peppered throughout which makes the audience feel though they are experiencing the subject’s Instagram accounts first hand- the good and the bad.

Right from the outset director Jonathan Ignatius Green chose to emulate the style and techniques used by Instagram filmmakers. There is liberal use of slow motion and Steadicam as well as tracking and drone shots. This decision serves the documentary extremely well as this film almost becomes it’s subject, in that they present their subject as though they were curating their Instagram feed. Which is then contrasted by quite rigid, traditional talking heads of unnamed contributors discussing their experience of Instagram. This makes for a very slick, professional, and compelling piece of work.

It would have been easy to make the film simply about one of three subjects. They could all be a film in their own right. Yet there is something effective about the juxtaposition of a story like Kaylyn’s, where her affluent lifestyle and traditional beauty meant she developed an army of followers, with Humza’s rollercoaster journey finding his voice and getting out of The Projects where he grew up; the model and the artist. Stories such as theirs are not uncommon, but what makes Humza’s unique is that he rose and fell several times over the course of a few years. He won the Instagram lottery and then his thousands of followers turned against him.

But even that does not compare to Emma, a victim of bullying, rumours and harassment. Hers is a story about what happens when our lives are broadcast to everyone else in our immediate circles. Our friends, our families, our classmates, and those in our community. When people gossip and talk, whilst forgetting that behind every online profile is a living, breathing person. It’s almost like a sliding scale. Kaylyn is at the top with the most positive experience of Instagram, Humza occupies the middle, and Emma’s is an experience none of us would want to go through. The juxtaposition between these three stories creates a more balanced picture than documentaries on social media tend to pursue. It’s easy to make film about connecting with people like the subject saved their life or a dire warning about the evils of social media, but Social Animals carefully navigates between these two extremes.

However, it must be said that the target audience for Social Animals must be at least in their forties, if not older, as it is rare to find a young person who is not wholly aware of the benefits and drawbacks of social media. It is the world which they have grown up in. Anyone younger may feel patronised by this film as it assumes we have never engaged in social media and internet culture. It assumes we don’t know how to build a following, what makes people double tap, or that there is a person behind a heavily curated Instagram feed.

Otherwise the film is a slick, glossy window into three well juxtaposed, intimate, stories of the opportunities and perils of Instagram.


by Mia Garfield

Mia Garfield has just finished a degree in Film at Falmouth University. She has written about the female voice in cinema and negotiating the position of the female director. She has just finished her first short film ‘Sonder’, keep an eye out for it at festivals in the UK. A big lover of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Mythology, her taste is varied and every time she is asked about her favourite film she gives a different answer. Today her favourite films include Howl’s Moving Castle, Memoirs of A Geisha, How to Train Your Dragon, and Big Hero 6. You can find her @miajulianna2864

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