Trader is a fascinating, minimalistic film that brings the audience into a world of chance, rigged games, and the ever present drive to come out on top. It is a surprisingly tense film that hooks its audience via the inherent mystery of its main character, and leads us on a wild journey where though we have absolutely no idea what’s coming, we’re pretty certain that it will end in a trainwreck for someone.

The film (written and directed by Corey Stanton) opens in a dingy, barely furnished apartment. We see a woman (Kimberly-Sue Murray) on a headset, a laptop open in front of her. She has just begun a call with an elderly gentleman. She said that she is from a credit agency and was calling because they noticed a few strange charges pop up on his credit card. Would he be willing to confirm his credit card number for her? Great. And how about the expiration date and the 3 digit code on the back? Wonderful. She will take care of the fraudulent charges and will cancel his card, just as a precaution. He thanks her for her care.

At this point, your blood might be boiling. Equally because this woman is scamming an old man who doesn’t know any better, and also because why can’t people be smart enough not to fall into these traps to begin with? But no matter. The plot continues.

This woman (known only to us as “Trader”) uses her ill-gotten funds to order some personal supplies (speed and energy drinks), as well as some professional supplies (a number of electronics, which she then sells). It’s kind of a sad little scam. Especially given the level of drive and hustle she is putting into it. It really doesn’t amount to much money at all. But then she comes across an article about the exciting world of day trading, and it’s as if the clouds have parted. This could be IT.

She begins learning anything and everything she can about the stock market. How to make trades, what all the lingo means, red vs green, and how to understand the numbers. She really puts in a lot of effort to educate herself on what one professional in the film called “a get rich quick scheme” where “the house always wins.” 

When she feels that she has done enough research, she creates a sexy profile on a trading site and makes her move. Not only does she score, but she scores big. Big enough to get the attention of a major player, both on the site and in the real world. Bob (Shaun Benson) specializes in trumpeting both facts and bullshit across the internet in an attempt to sway the market to the best of his ability. And to look like a stock guru in the eyes of his many many followers. He is also a professional trader. Not someone jockeying low level trades for money and thrills, but a Wallstreet pro. Our protagonist has her new mark.

As Bob says “Don’t buy the hype….create the hype.” Trader begins laying the groundwork to do exactly that. She researches, she crunches numbers, she places bets, and she does what she has to in order to affect the outcome. She was already a loner nightowl, and she found a job that fits perfectly with that. She has no scruples or morals, and subsists on a diet of amphetamines, energy drinks and wasabi. And she learns fast. As the film progresses, she lures more strangers into her web, sets more traps, and wins more money. She sets her sights on a major pharmaceuticals trade and slides all her chips across the table. All or Nothing.

It kind of sounds like a one-room play version of the Big Short, and in a way I guess it is. But instead of examining a particular moment in history, it is examining the game as a whole. And not just the market. It’s more as if Stanton is looking at a corner of human nature. The way we buy in, the addiction that money represents, and the lengths that we will go to in order to Win. Though Trader is our protagonist, we’re not necessarily on her side. She gets up to some pretty shady stuff and did open the film by defrauding an old man out of his credit card. But at the same time, there is something immensely satisfying about seeing the game rigged against the people claiming to run it.  As is human nature, we’re appalled, yet strangely fascinated by disasters.

Style-wise, the film feels a bit like Pontypool, in a way. Though Trader lives alone in her crappy apartment, she shares the story with a number of other characters who float in and out via phone calls. That vocal element fills up the space nicely and populates this world. We never meet them in person, but they are very much real and lived-in characters that exist solely as a vocal performance. Stanton brings in stylish visual elements as well. She does a great job at visually incorporating the language of the stock market. The film is lit in bright reds and greens, indicating if a stock that Trader is following is doing well or is failing. We also see her running multiple financial scenarios through scribbling on charts, mirrors and in notebooks. Though we could easily have seen a lot of this information via computer screen, these choices give these moments a bigger, more tactile feeling.

The film is strangely fascinating. As someone who has absolutely zero knowledge of or interest in the stock market, I was surprisingly hooked by it. I had enough information to understand what was going on, but more interestingly, it was the How that got me. Watching all of this unfold and trying to get into the heads of the players. Trying to figure out just what motivates Trader. What her goals are. What her purpose is. And how different she is (or isn’t) from Bob and the other market junkies. They live and breathe this stuff, but in a way, it’s just another grift for her. Her latest obsession that could either make her loads of money or leave her broke. The film wanders into some moments that can start to feel a bit tedious at times, but it is this fascinating question that it always comes back to: What is the end goal?

So just who is Trader? We get enough information about her to realize that we know absolutely nothing at all about who she really is at her core. Is she a lonely woman looking to carve a slice of the pie out for herself? Is she an agent of chaos, seeking to cause as many ripples in the water before vanishing? Is she the very spirit of capitalism itself? Opinions will vary, but for me, I would say all of the above. Neither hero nor villain, she is a fascinating character that we just can’t tear our eyes away from. And she is what makes her story (and the film) interesting.

Movie Score: 3/5