At the beginning of Bad Match, Harris (Jack Cutmore Scott) is in a bar, texting on his phone, when Rachel (Christine Donlon), his latest hook-up from a Tinder-like website called ‘Head Over Heels’, arrives for their first date. As part of his flirtatious schtick, Harris slickly pretends to read her mind and sense her ‘drink aura’, ordering her beverage for her, and adding a tequila shot to ensure she gets drunk. After having sex with her, he makes his excuses and leaves – and wakes up in his own bed, only to start searching Head Over Heels for his next date, and to play an online VG deathmatch before heading into work at a trendy advertising agency.
Three things become clear in this introduction: first, that Harris, though smooth and charming, is no gentleman, but more like a manipulative pick-up artist, serially playing “a numbers game” to use women for his own pleasure before discarding them; second, that he has a strong sense of confidence in his own powers to read women; and third, that, like most of us, he lives much of his life online. “Technology,” as his best friend Chuck (Brandon Scott) says, “it’s a great thing!” All three of these themes – toxic masculinity, the reading (and misreading) of the opposite sex, and digital identity – will come together when he treats his latest date, Riley (Lili Simmons) – a self-assured behavioural psych student on the rebound from her last boyfriend – in the same way that he has treated all the others, only to discover that she does not want to let him go. At first Harris struggles to resist her sexual forwardness, but as her endless texts and calls to his workplace make him feel beleaguered, even stalked, the tables are turned on this insincere alpha predator who now finds himself falling victim to a Fatal Attraction of the Internet age, and facing joblessness and jail.
David Chirchirillo is perhaps best known for co-writing E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills (2013) with Trent Haaga (who has a cameo here as a police detective), but Bad Match is Chirchirillo’s feature debut as both writer and director (if we discount 2013’s Paranormal Incident 2, which he directed under a pseudonym). Like Cheap Thrills, it locates its genre scenario within a recognisable social reality, and shows an ordinary if not particularly likeable individual spiralling ever downward into monstrous moral decline as he makes one binary choice after another (like the casual swiping on a Tinder account) that constantly leads to worse trouble for himself. Best, or worst, of all, the film’s plotting carefully manoeuvres Harris into carrying out the most repellent of masculine behaviours – cyberstalking and real-world stalking, imposture, roofying a woman’s drink, violent abduction, false imprisonment, coercion and worse – all in the service of protecting himself from someone who has beaten him at his own game. It is a twisty battle of the sexes where the Internet’s simple, reductive surfaces, all avatars and flattering selfies, also prove highly effective masks.