Given that this moment in time is simultaneously characterised by the marginalised members of our society standing up and refusing to take any more s**t, and dumb kids with their heads stuck in their phones 24/7, it makes sense that a film like Like Me exists. Even the title, LIKE ME, is desperate for attention.
It’s also pretty perfect that writer-director Robert Mockler’s feature debut has been foisted on us in the same year Logan Paul filmed a dead body, put it on YouTube, and gained a million more fans as a result. There is no limit anymore. The limit does not exist. If you want to be famous, you don’t need any talent, as Emma Roberts’ anti-heroine Jill, in Scream 4, warned us. You just need to have f**ked up s**t happen to you.
Or, as Paul, and Like Me’s protagonist Kiya would suggest, do it yourself. We first meet her clad in an arty-spooky mask, terrorising a store clerk (played by The Battery‘s Jeremy Gardner, always welcome) with a gun and then putting the footage online to near universal praise. The only discerning voice comes from the brilliantly-named Burt Walden (Ian Nelson), who posts a vicious response video calling her a big fat faker.
Trying to up the ante, Kiya befriends a homeless fellow, stuffs him full of food, and tries to get him to tell her a story. When that doesn’t work, she ups sticks to a kitschy motel where Horror Icon Larry Fessenden is manning the desk, and persuades him to meet her in her room and have some very weird fun. The two become an odd couple of sorts when Kiya kidnaps Fessenden’s Marshall and forces him to be her only friend.
Kiya’s motivations, like her end game, are never quite clear, much to the film’s credit. Like Me‘s visually arresting, art-pop sensibilities, projected often through its protagonist’s own videos, lend it an air of surrealism. It’s never explicitly stated whether what we’re experiencing is real life, a fever dream, or just the maniacal ramblings of a very sick person. Burt may be a projection of Kiya’s subconscious. Likewise, Marshall.
First-timer Mockler casts the film to within an inch of its life, filling its four principle roles with actors more than up to the challenge. Timlin is remarkable, but as her nemesis, Nelson — who it took me forever to realise I recognised as J-Lo’s kid from The Boy Next Door — is an acid-tongued joy. In his short, to-camera proclamations against Kiya, he spits out damning invictives like he’s preaching to a congregation of believers.
In many ways, Burt is actually a more realistic concoction than Kiya herself. And, when he’s finally confronted IRL and runs away like a little b***h, it puts paid to every previous, angry moment he’s spent onscreen. On the other side of the spectrum is Fessenden’s equally isolated Marshall who, in his first moments with Kiya, is attempting to bed someone he believes to be maybe 17 years old at most.
It’s a creepier, darker role than we’ve seen the reliably soft Fessenden play, but it’s welcome too. Like Me gives him the space, and the focus, to show off what he can do and it’s in Marshall’s quieter moments with Kiya that we really get a sense of how he’s got to this point in his life. We never get the same indication from his road buddy, but that’s hardly the point. Kiya is how she presents herself online: a cypher.
Mockler seems to know he’s working with acid-trippy, potentially headache-inducing visuals here and the film doesn’t outstay its welcome as a result, clocking in at under 90 mins. What begins as a darker, less quippy Tragedy Girls (with which this would make an excellent double bill) companion soon morphs into something much stranger.
Anchored by four key performances, a visual pallette that’s as striking as it is disarming, and an overwhelming sense that nothing is as it truly seems, Like Me is one of a kind. It won’t be to everybody’s tastes, but such is its power.
Oh, and Logan Paul wouldn’t stand a chance against Kiya by the way.
Catch Like Me on VOD from Feb. 20, 2018
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Robert Mockler
Writer(s): Robert Mockler
Stars: Addison Timlin, Ian Nelson, Larry Fessenden, Jeremy Gardner
Release date: Feb. 20, 2018 (VOD)
Studio/ Production Co: Dogfish Pictures
Length: 80 minutes
Subgenre: Internet horror