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Sweat review – layered drama about the dark side of #positivity

Magnus von Horn’s insightful sophomore feature offers a sharp look at the unfiltered realities of online celebrity culture

The term “influencer” has been floating around the modern lexicon for years now. Take a look at half the internet-age celebrities and most of them will have found success via YouTube, Instagram, or – most recently – TikTok. Though the topic of fame and performativity has been thoroughly explored in cinema, few have sought to update the narrative for an audience familiar with the power of social media. Enter Magnus von Horn’s Sweat.

Magdalena Koleśnik is Sylwia, a twenty-something fitness guru slash social media influencer balancing brand deals, TV appearances, stalkers, and the soul crushing desire for genuine human connection – despite an online following of 600,000. Adorned head-to-toe in varying shades of pink (even her socks and phone case match) and a wide, pearly smile, she is the human personification of rose-tinted, bombarding her fans with chirpy sound bites about the joys of fitness and girlboss-esque positivity. Things change when an overly earnest and raw video of Sylwia professing her extreme loneliness causes cracks in the sugary coating of her apparently perfect life.

Throughout Sweat, von Horn presents us with over-the-shoulder shots of Sylwia filming bright and cheery snippets of life for her Instagram followers. But viewing them from Sylwia's side instead of through the receiving end of a small, rectangular screen prompts an odd and jarring effect. It suddenly seems ridiculous to see this woman performing for the camera as she does something as simple as throwing a banana and some protein powder into a blender while explaining the process in excruciating detail to her audience.

Whereas other films might opt to showcase social media content on screen by inserting said video clips into the frame of the film itself, von Horn deliberately creates a stark disconnect by making the audience watch the awkward behind-the-scenes of these social media posts in real time, shattering the sickly sweet sheen of influencer culture. We are forced to view Sylwia as a puppet of her own making, controlled by the bright white light of a phone screen, strings attached to perfectly toned limbs that slacken and lose form as soon as the recording stops.

It’s easy for films about influencer culture and the age of being online to simply boil down to “social media = bad,” but von Horn sharply dissects the nuances of a life dictated by algorithms, follower counts, and the symbiotic relationship of an influencer and their fans to produce a multi-layered and emotionally complex feature that avoids obvious answers. With a narrative that could have understandably tumbled toward a more violent and macabre ending, von Horn sets his sights firmly on pathos. Sylwia is no hero, but she’s no villain either; the intimate snapshots of her family and romantic life (a cold mother and men no better than her stalker) discourage any eye-rolling and provoke, instead, sympathy for the beautiful girl who seemingly has it all.

Sweat accepts that social media is here to stay, but with heart and empathy, it encourages us not to forget about the human being behind the screen.

Sweat is released in cinemas and available to stream on Curzon Home Cinema from 25 June.

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