A true-crime yarn replete with staged re-enactments, “Cyber Hell: Exposing an Internet Horror” joins a growing subgenre of streaming documentaries depicting nightmares of the digital realm. Only this time, the central offense is not cryptocurrency fraud or a dating hoax but a series of sex crimes, including the trade of child sexual abuse imagery.
The movie (on Netflix) zeroes in on a South Korean case in which online chat room operators coerced young women, including minors, into making and sending sexually explicit videos. Over several years beginning around 2018, the scheme occurred on the encrypted messaging service Telegram, where a ring of users lured women with phishing links or the promise of jobs before blackmailing them into supplying pornographic and dehumanizing images.
Through interviews with journalists and police, the documentary details the search for two core perpetrators of the scheme who used the aliases “Baksa” and “GodGod.” The men, who exploited dozens of young women and shared the footage with paying customers, often referred to their victims as “slaves.”
It’s a harrowing case of violence against women and the way technology facilitates heinous crime. But like many other documentaries of this sort, little attention is paid to the digital networks that served as avenues for the exploitation. Instead, the director Choi Jin-seong dedicates the movie’s overlong run time to dogging the men’s movements. What could have been an urgent inquiry into the systems enabling sex criminals becomes something more pedestrian — a stylized replay of a game of cat and mouse.
Cyber Hell: Exposing an Internet Horror
Not rated. In Korean, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. Watch on Netflix.
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