Genre and indie films seem to be branching in two drastically different directions. On one side, we are seeing a slow burn, more subversive Joe Swanberg-like approach to things, with mumbling realistic dialogue and the warm camerawork showcasing dive bars and middle-class suburbs. The opposite side of the spectrum is embracing the social media generation, straddling styles between Harmony Korine and Odd Future Wolfgang Kill Them All. Like Me leans heavily into the latter and never lets up.
Like Me follows Kiya, a young hipster loner who sparks a social media sensation by filming and editing her criminal exploits. As Kiya continues to dive deeper into a depraved journey for “likes” online, her reality starts to come apart at the seams. What starts with a fake store robbery becomes increasingly more violent all while forcing Kiya to confront inner demons. As her self-indulgent quest continues, she is constantly harassed by another popular online presence, Burt, and brings along an involuntary passenger, Marshall.
Like Me is a strange film. Directed by newcomer Robert Mockler, the movie taps into a niche side of the internet and exploits it to its grandest. The movie integrates quick cuts, snappy editing, and a nostalgic nineties sheen that bleeds into the main story and plot to make the videos and the plot intertwine in a way that can’t exist without the other. Much like the incredibly polarized Spring Breakers, Like Me uses bright neon pinks and purples to cover up a very dirty core. The plot progression is marked with jarring images of strange animations, purposely low-grade CG and VHS era editing. One of the weirdest instances has Kiya taping Marshall to a bed, stripping him, force-feeding him sugar cereal until he throws up and eventually slicing him with a knife. In the moment, it seems forced and derogatory but as time progresses it’s something the viewer will remember and stands out. Like Me is full of moments like this.
The story is one of mania and of self-discovery. Kiya, portrayed by Addison Timlin, is an enigmatic lead who has a wild duality that is the primary driving force of the film. She is recklessly brave and has a crushing self-doubt all at the same time. Marshall, portrayed by genre journeyman Larry Fessenden, is a welcome addition to the film. Marshall exists as a catalyst for Kiya’s descent into desensitization, a gauge of her morality and her grips with reality. Where the internet serves as the devil on her shoulder, Marshall is brought along to try and balance that out, the barely tangential thread that links her isolation and her sense of companionship she gleans from her online antics. Ian Nelson plays Burt, who also exists in merely a supplementary fashion, he is the foil. Anytime Kiya starts to feel good about herself, it’s hinged upon the scathing reviews that Burt leaves online and that eventually lead to the climax and conclusion of the film.
While Like Me has many victories – one being Mockler using clever editing to make up for a low budget – it also has a few shortcomings. At times, it loses itself in its lunacy, grasping at straws to put together a plot. It pushes boundaries but sometimes instead loses its edge by attempting so desperately to disturb the viewer. The characters are inherently unlikable, but realistically relatable, which is a double-edged sword. It also makes some bold decisions and ends up with about a fifty percent success rate. Luckily, it’s carried on strong shoulders by the likes of Timlin and Fessenden, with Timlin really putting her heart and soul into the role and selling the hell out of it. Ultimately, it’s a gonzo thriller for an age of millennials, a film that will surely be embraced by the Coachella generation.