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Whatever It Takes Review: Cyberstalking nightmare

A woman with a ponytail, seen from behind, looks at a white computer screen in the film Whatever It Takes

With twists and turns at every corner, Whatever It Takes uncovers a shocking true-crime story involving a multibillion-dollar tech company.

In the documentary Whatever It Takes, director Jenny Carchman wastes no time launching viewers into a world of terror, corruption, and despair. The horrifying details of this true-crime case will keep you invested in the story until the very last minute, accompanied by unsettling twists and turns, leaving you stunned that such events occurred in the first place.

In August 2019, Ina and David Steiner began receiving threatening messages through Twitter. As the pair ran a website providing resources and advice to consumers and sellers of e-commerce sites, the couple had an inkling that the keyboard warrior may be a disgruntled eBay seller. Little did they know how big the case would become.

After ignoring the threatening messages they received, things took an even crazier turn. Ina woke up to an inbox full of inappropriate spam emails. In the following weeks, the couple received horrifying items in the mail, including a pig mask and various packages containing fly larvae, spiders, and cockroaches. When a funeral wreath was delivered to the back door, and David was sent a book called “Grief Diaries: Surviving Loss of a Spouse,” he viewed this harassment as a direct threat. The couple started to fear for their lives.

Soon enough, packages began to arrive each day, and police in the local area would visit the Steiner house often. At first, law enforcement believed that someone might be playing a sick joke on the pair. But (spoiler warning till the end of the sentence) no one could have imagined that those behind the crime were employees of the billion-dollar tech giant eBay.

As Ina and David’s case was an ongoing investigation back when all the cyberstalking incidents occurred, Whatever It Takes includes a vast amount of archived footage throughout the documentary. This gives viewers a sinister look through the eyes of the couple and just how terrifying their lives were at the time. Security camera footage reveals unwarranted pizza deliveries in the dead of night and cars surveilling the pair’s house. It’s an eerie and uncomfortable watch as you put yourselves in Ina and David’s shoes, never knowing what might happen from one day to the next.

A woman with a ponytail, seen from behind, looks at a white computer screen in the film Whatever It Takes
Whatever It Takes (Undeniable & Fremantle Documentaries / SXSW 2024)

Whatever It Takes is at its best when exploring each cyberstalking incident from Ina and David’s point of view and what led investigators to eBay. That said, the documentary also does a fantastic job of showing the story from the tech giant’s perspective. (spoiler warning till the end of the review) There are various interviews with previous eBay employees who were fired from the security team before the criminal activities—which former security director Jim Baugh and his new team were behind—began. This unbiased and distinctive approach allows viewers to see both sides of the crime and splits adequate time between the two. Though there is a vast tonal shift from Ina and David’s sinister cyberstalking to an informative narrative reflecting eBay’s history and the business, Carchman effectively establishes the groundwork before pivoting to the motive for the crime.

In Whatever It Takes, we learn that all of Baugh’s employees at the time were women under the age of 25. Each was a recent graduate and honored to work for the company. Among them was Veronica Zea, who was involved in cyberstalking the Steiners. She is interviewed during the documentary and recounts what the team was instructed to do in hopes of scaring the Steiners into taking down their website. 

When speaking of Baugh and his team, Sergeant Jason Sutherland states, “He had a hold over them. He could ask them to do uncanny things, and most did them without anything further than a desire to please him.” Ultimately, the crime uncovered demonstrates the dark side of corporate greed. Manipulation and seniority can be used in businesses to intimidate those in junior roles, and some individuals in positions of power believe they’re untouchable.Whatever It Takes is a bonkers, gripping true-crime thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Drenched in eeriness and unease from start to finish, Carchman’s documentary will inevitably have true crime enthusiasts in their element.

Whatever It Takes was screened at SXSW on March 9-15, 2024. Read our SXSW reviews and our list of films to watch at SXSW 2024!

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