Another Body


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Another Body
"Most of the film has been assembled out of Zoom chats, but it’s so well done, and the story is so compelling, that it might take you a while to notice."

Would it bother you to learn that there were pornographic images circulating online which appeared to be of you, because your head had been pasted onto somebody else’s body? For some people, that’s an innately distressing experience. For others it might not seem like a big deal, but as this documentary makes clear, it’s not always just about somebody’s fantasy – it can be an intimidatory tactic which places people in serious danger in the real world.

This documentary, which screened at the 2023 SXSW, follows a young woman introduced as Taylor. We don’t learn her real name and we don’t see her real face – the same deepfake technology which was used to create hybrid porn images of her is used here to disguise her identity. This isn’t just about allowing her some privacy when addressing a sensitive subject – it’s about protecting her from revenge attacks.

As we see in a recreation here, Taylor first found out that her image had been used in porn when a friend contacted her on Facebook and directed her to the videos, of which there were already several, publicly available. Suddenly an increase in creepy messages which she’d received from male strangers on Instagram made sense to her. Her Instagram was listed on the videos, along with her full name, the town she lived in and the place where she studied – all somebody would need to stalk her.

Alongside making her unsafe in this way, the videos made Taylor worry about how prospective future employers might perceive her, and she was afraid that family members might find them. There’s a rare honesty about the way she admits to worrying about what people think of her, even through the cloak of anonymity. Along with clips of childhood home movies and the online gaming she enjoys with friends, it makes her feel very human. She describes the weirdness of making eye contact with the alternate version of herself in the video, which is clipped here so that we can see the informative parts of it without seeing anything pornographic.

What does one do in a situation like this? Taylor’s attempts to get help from the police didn’t get her very far. All over the world, police and courts are struggling to deal with what is a new area for them, with this and a host of related forms of harassment and endangerment inadequately addressed by existing laws. An expert interviewed here speaks to the situation in the US, where Taylor lives. When Taylor finds out that somebody else she knew at college has been targeted with the same behaviour, the two of them set out to try to identify the person responsible.

Much of this film plays out like a detective story. Along the way, other victims are discovered, and the women learn how such material is used to target famous women and women who wield political power. One page of links to deepfake videos includes one targeting Greta Thunberg, back when she was still a child. Another targets a famous YouTuber, and she’s not willing to put up with being intimidated, taking on the probable culprit in a manner which many viewers are likely to find inspiring.

Alongside that part of the story is an exploration of what it means to study a heavily male-dominated subject like engineering as a woman, especially at a university where student housing is allotted by subject. The sheer number of creepy men whom Taylor and her friends recall interacting with there tells a story in itself. There’s that sadness which most young women encounter sooner or later when they realise just how broken a lot of men are, and discover that individuals they thought of as friends had violent sexual fantasies about them all along, or that they can be subjected to revenge attacks for something as simple as not having the time to be there for a man every time he wants emotional support.

Most of the film has been assembled out of Zoom chats, but it’s so well done, and the story is so compelling, that it might take you a while to notice. Stylistically, it seems appropriate for a film about activity taking place online, though directors Sophie Compton and Reuben Hamlyn are careful to pull us back every now and again and remind us of how this can impact people in the material world. When a suspect is identified, Taylor shudders at the realisation that she shared a bathroom with him, that she was taking showers when we was just a few metres away.

There are no stories of crossover violence here, but one doesn’t need to look very hard online to find them. Another Body – whose title might remind viewers of what many victims of sexual violence say about mentally separating themselves from their bodies in order to survive – points up an urgent issue which legislators need to get to grips with. It does so in a way which is accessible, relatable and humane. One hopes that it will travel far.

Reviewed on: 14 Mar 2023
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A documentary following a college student’s search for justice after she discovers deepfake pornography of herself circulating online.
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Director: Sophie Compton, Reuben Hamlyn

Writer: Sophie Compton, Reuben Hamlyn, Isabel Freeman

Year: 2023

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: UK, US

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