The internet is a dangerous, dangerous place. It’s a concept that’s been peddled since the .com boom in the early 2000s, as people could communicate with unfettered access like never before. The idiom has long gone that you never quite know who’s on the other end of the screen. But in Caught in the Net, the horrifying truth is that you know exactly who lurks in video calls and chat rooms – and those are some truly horrifying people.

This audacious Czech documentary plays a lot like the beloved Catfish show, as three young actors play the role of pre-pubescent girls online. The extensive crew constructs lifelike bedrooms for filming to take place, and the directors and producers listen in on every conversation and interaction. Their goal is to expose just how insipid and terrifying the breadth of online sexual abuse is towards minors – and it certainly uncovers a lot of horrifying material.

It really should be said that Caught in the Net is a very, very tough watch. Directors Barbora Chalupová and Vít Klusák hold no bars in terms of the material shown, with some really graphic messages and video calls on display. It can be tough to sit though some of the putrid language and explicit coercion of our supposedly young protagonists, but it’s so important to contributing towards the film’s central thesis. This is a problem that’s totally endemic online, where predators seem to feel invincible: but the beauty of this film is that they absolutely aren’t. You hear unfiltered discussion, and even see their faces: albeit with a haunting effect where everything except their beady eyes and vicious mouths are revealed.

It all comes to a rollicking climax that’s truly hard to tear yourself away from, as the range of online interactions move from internet to real life in a gripping way. Seeing these evil men confronted, or simply continuing their perversion in broad daylight, is some of the most starkly impactful footage in the whole film. All three leads, Sabina Dlouhá, Anezka Pithartová, and Tereza Tezká, deserve major plaudits for their bravery and commitment to their roles, willing to sacrifice their own safety and innocence to unveil just how sickening this problem is.

It’s not the sort of documentary you’ll watch to unwind, and it takes itself a lot more seriously than Netflix’s brand of true-crime output, but Caught in the Net is a hugely important watch. Its meticulous planning and expert execution show just how dangerous the internet can be, and there’s no way you’ll leave this film without being shocked and concerned. Documentaries can play an important societal role in shining light on unseen topics – and Caught in the Net does exactly that.

★★★★

Caught in the Net is out now on digital.