A veritable crime thread brimming with staged reenactments, “Cyber Hell: Exposing an Internet Horror” joins a growing subgenre of streaming documentaries depicting nightmares of the digital realm. Only this time the central crime is not cryptocurrency fraud or a dating hoax, but a series of sex crimes, including the trafficking of child sexual abuse images.
The film (on Netflix) focuses on a South Korean case in which online chat room operators forced young women, including minors, to create and send sexually explicit videos. For a number of years, starting around 2018, the scheme took place 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 providing pornographic and dehumanizing images.
Through interviews with journalists and police, the documentary details the search for two main perpetrators of the plan 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 is a harrowing case of violence against women and the way technology enables heinous crime. But like many documentaries of this kind, little attention is paid to the digital networks that served as avenues for exploitation. Instead, director Choi Jin-seong devotes the film’s too long running time to following the men’s movements. What could have been an urgent investigation into the systems that enable sex criminals becomes something more pedestrian: a stylized iteration of a cat-and-mouse game.
Cyber Hell: Exposing an Internet Horror
Not judged. In Korean, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. Watch on Netflix.