It started as a Twitter thread posted by A’Ziah King, aka Zola, in a series of posts that tracked a new friendship, a fun weekend away dancing and everything that went wrong with it. It attracted in real time the attention of celebrities such as Missy Higgins, who were re-tweeting events as they unfolded.

“Y’all wanna hear a story about why me and this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense,” Zola says when the movie starts.

Zola (Taylour Paige) is a waitress in Detroit Hooters with a boyfriend and a pole in the bedroom where she practises dancing. When Stefani (Riley Keough) comes in, they hit it off and Zola agrees to go with her to Florida for the weekend to make quick money dancing in clubs. On the long road trip where you track their late-night tiredness, we start to wonder about Stefani, whose hilarious conversation and manner of speaking is based on misappropriated black street slang. Travelling with them is her ineffectual boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun from Succession) and a sinister sidekick, X.

If the story sounds thin, it’s not, and the basics are true. It becomes evident to Zola pretty quickly that all is not what it seems and she can’t help but be drawn into the web. The movie is marked with time stamps that make you understand the days in hotels are just downtime for planning the next hustle. And as the nights go on, the story gets darker

It is pitched almost as a caper movie where everyone has a phone in their hand and it is funny, but Zola is right; it’s also full of suspense.

The film is also eye-popping on a number of levels, for its pace and subject matter but also for the acting, particularly by Keough (the granddaughter of Elvis Presley), who gives a fierce performance as a lost soul who later takes to Reddit in a suit and pearls to refute Zola’s posts. In a memorable moment in a hotel room, you see her wiping her underarms and staring in the mirror, not betraying a hint of what she is thinking. Her outfits, her language, her life is a performance and she is someone you could laugh at for being so easily fooled.

It is a high-octane ride but it leaves a sense of sadness about people whose lives are reduced to this. You wonder why Stefani doesn’t walk away and find something better but from the inside that pathway is never clear. As Zola tweeted at the time: “That bitch lost in the game.”

Zola is in select cinemas from tomorrow.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.