The title of #LIKE is slightly misleading, not because the movie doesn’t revolve around Internet usage (it does, at least at first), but because it suggests this is an Unfriended-style scare-fest about online demons. Instead, the debut feature from writer, director, and producer Sarah Pirozek is a smart, ruminative, and quietly affecting little indie. It’s not at all the movie you’re expecting it to be, much to the talented first-timer’s credit.
Fellow newcomer Sarah Rich is social media-obsessed teenager Rosie who’s mourning the loss of her little sister, Amelia, who committed suicide a year previous after a lengthy period of online abuse. Pirozek cleverly establishes Rosie and Amelia’s connection via the latter’s now defunct Facebook page and YouTube channel where, Eighth Grade-style, she only had a handful of views per video.
Plenty of info is gleaned via Rosie’s late-night social media trawls, foregoing the need for boring exposition from she or her gaggle of similarly online buddies. After spotting a dodgy comment from an old suitor of Amelia’s, Rosie reinstates her accounts and begins interacting with him as her, with a view to luring the dude, To Catch A Predator-style, into a confrontation. She knows he’s local, but that’s about it.
After heading to the police station, with all her supposed evidence in tow, and being kindly rebuffed by a local officer, Rosie is dismayed her search has turned out to be fruitless. Then, by chance, a local man drops several signals that he might be the culprit. In a desperate move to avenge her sister’s death, Rosie kidnaps this stranger, imprisons him in the basement, and attempts to torture him into confessing to his many alleged misdeeds.
#LIKE touts itself as a study of “teen paranoia in the time of #metoo and social media,” and, as haughty a claim as that is, the description isn’t actually that far off. Pirozek’s premise might be outlandish, but the backdrop is all too common and believable. Her leading lady might imprison a man and torture him without any real evidence he’s committed a crime, but regardless her story is topical. The setting isn’t realistic necessarily, but the point is made.
As Rosie, Rich is an absolute powerhouse. She’s an incredibly strong presence, carrying the entire film on her bony little shoulders. Clearly grieving and unsure how to properly process the loss of her sister, she takes drastic measures, but Rosie is never a one-dimensional revenge-seeker intent on punishing bad men for their transgressions. #LIKE may have certain things in common with Hard Candy, but Rosie is a reluctant instigator.
As her captive, Marc Menchaca (Homeland, Ozark) has a grizzly, Dean Ambrose-y air about him. Pirozek wisely keeps the revelation over who he really is until the film’s final moments, and Menchaca cleverly plays his character as neither complete victim nor complete psychopath. There are moments we can be sure he did it, while others he seems like little more than the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time.
#LIKE would be a far more cowardly film if it delivered the exact payoff we were looking for, and credit must go to Pirozek for sticking the landing in a way that feels both completely unexpected and exactly right for these confusing, frustrating times. Her film plays as a snapshot of everything that women are feeling right now, whether wrong or right. It also doesn’t advocate for the use of torture (so take that, Dick Cheney) or violence as catch-all solutions, tempting as they might be.
This is a fascinating tale for the #MeToo era for sure, thought-provoking, realistic and disarming in equal measure. The Internet-based elements are well-done, including a great Fake Facebook and Fake Skype — though with the actual ringing sounds (even Catfish didn’t manage that for a good few seasons). The opening credits are typed out, like they would be on a computer, as they are on MTV’s super-sleuth show, which is a nice touch.
The cinematography, from Brian Jackson, is dreamy, summery, and wistful, giving the impression of teens enjoying a never-ending vacation. When the action moves subterranean, he ensures Rich stands out, her blonde hair and often bright white clothes shimmering amid the darkness. This is a very feminine film, with Pirozek’s influence seeping into each frame. It’s a harsh story told delicately and with real feeling.
#LIKE is shaggy around the edges, but its overarching message is sensitively communicated and Pirozek is careful not to indict anybody for reacting the way they do under terrible circumstances. She makes the point that the most dangerous creeps are often hiding in plain sight, but that doesn’t mean we should rush to implicate everybody. #LIKE will premiere at the Brooklyn Film Festival June 1st.
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Sarah Pirozek
Writer(s): Sarah Pirozek
Stars: Sarah Rich, Marc Menchaca, Jeff Wincott, Dakota Lustick
Release date: June 1, 2019 (Brooklyn Film Festival)
Studio/Production Company: DAME WORK Inc.
Run Time: 94 minutes (approx.)