I once made a really good burger. I formed the patty myself, added the spices and topped it with smashed avocado. It was a half-pound beast that was proof to the world that I could, in fact, make a burger. I shot a photo of my culinary art and cast it adrift into the internet. I sat at my phone, and I waited. I waited for a long time. No likes, no comments. No one cared about my burger.
I knew that no one would care, but that desire to receive virtual attention is so strong. The electric feedback of numbers and thumbs, of the avatars and opinions of strangers, can fundamentally change the way we experience the world. A moment doesn’t have to be something to feel for ourselves, but rather something to observe and share with everyone else. Something to make us famous in the most impersonal of ways.
LIKE ME is a neon-coated, isolating Gothic fairytale for a generation of people who want to be famous taking pictures of burgers.
Director: Robert Mockler
Release Date: February 20, 2018
Kiya is a young woman traveling along the coast who robs a convenience store at gunpoint and posts it to the internet for all to see. She’s met with overnight viral success. She gains tens of thousands of followers, and a stream of reaction videos flood her feed. Alone in her hotel room, these reactions are all the attention she has.
This is the setup of a threadbare narrative that carries her along as she tries to befriend a homeless man (by overfeeding him and badgering him for a story), kidnaps a hotel keeper, and confronts an internet troll. She’s moved by internal desires to connect with someone human, but also with her want to continue to uphold the increasing demands of her followers.
Much of LIKE ME floats through dreamlike patterns of looping imagery, stuttering glitches, and neon lights. These sequences are free of dialogue. The smoother sections follow her crossing a bridge, driving through tunnels, sitting on a beach, and watching waves roll. These moments are a pleasure to watch. The cinematography is meticulously framed, and the lighting creates an atmosphere of its own by painting scenes in pinks and blues. The set design cements the fairytale world with rooms painted in swirling vortexes, or bloodspatter for a ceiling, or a campfire in the woods where the campfire is actually a bank of TVs throwing static. At a lean 80 minutes, LIKE ME never runs dry of inventive images to show.
Beauty even remains in the more disgusting digital manipulations that pepper the film. Inserts of up-close shots of teeth gnashing multicolored candies flash onto the screen. A man vomiting will loop and stutter in a gif fashion. These opposing aesthetics offer external glimpses into an internal character. When Kiya calls a stranger, one ring of the dial tone induces an animation of a wolf opening his jaws, and another brings waves crashing down. They add surreal touches to her anxiety and draw an idea of a character who remains elusive throughout the film.
There’s little in the way of a traditional plot to follow. Most beats are drawn by Kiya’s erratic motivations, which can twist scenes in unexpected directions. This doesn’t detract from the movie, rather it works with the atmosphere and makes for a more meditative piece. Addison Timlin brings a good deal to Kiya’s surface, when moments allow. She can remain cold and mute while holding a convenience store clerk at gunpoint but reacts with genuine shock at her own actions, afterward. Her interplay with Larry Fesseden as Marshall, a man she kidnaps and the only person she has any meaningful interaction with, is subtle and human. They use sparse dialog and expressions to create a relationship that feels tense and warm, in turns, without giving up too much. When Kiya tells Marshall that a follower said she should tape a GoPro to a dildo and shove it up his ass, a thread of tension breaks with a smirk and a laugh, but the question still hangs of what Kiya is willing to do to please her fans.
This subtlety and hyper-reality helps LIKE ME strike a non-judgmental tone. If the film’s world were entirely real, except for Kiya’s over-attachment to the internet, the lack of balance would risk preaching the evils of online communication. Here, her attachment is just another weird thing in a sea of weird things, and that’s refreshing. This allows us to dial everything down to our own real world internet usage and consider it in a meaningful way. It’s easy to say that there’s something wrong with the kids today. It takes work to just let people think about that without forcing an answer.
That said, when there are shots of internet videos, they don’t fit the movie’s atmosphere. There’s a focus on recreating videos that feel real. In such an unreal world this actually achieves the opposite effect. These videos come across as flat and out of place, especially those by Burt, an internet troll whose reaction videos influence Kiya’s actions. His are especially verbose and cheap-looking. Thankfully, these reactions take up no more than ten minutes in total.
LIKE ME is the best meditation on modern internet culture that I’ve seen. It’s full of stylish shots and serene beauty, but isn’t afraid to showcase the grueling and gross images that often gain viral attention. It’s loose and open-ended and only stumbles when it attempts realism. It’s a striking meditation that can hopefully help us all remember that shamelessly pandering for attention on the internet isn’t the best way to interact with people.
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