By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Addison Timlin, Larry Fessenden and Ian Nelson
Written and directed by Robert Mockler
Writer/director Robert Mockler and producer Larry Fessenden have said that their new movie LIKE ME isn’t exactly a horror film, but then it isn’t exactly any kind of film. It’s a crazy-quilt genre-blender of the type Fessenden has backed before, and what it has in common with his Glass Eye Pix’s output in general is a full commitment to its specific vision.
In LIKE ME’s case, that means a hallucinatory assemblage of images and scenes that fracture but don’t entirely obscure the narrative. One of its longest and strongest setpieces is the opening, in which a masked, hoodied young woman named Kiya (Addison Timlin) barges into a gas station/convenience store and terrorizes and humiliates the guy tending the counter (THE BATTERY director/star Jeremy Gardner). Changing the game on a traditional crime scene is the fact that Kiya wields a cell-phone camera as well as a gun, and her target acts out in front of it, mocking what people expect from on-line video clips, before his predicament becomes deadly serious.
Kiya goes home, uploads the footage and then obsessively checks the reactions, searching for validation. We don’t find out much about her background, but it’s evident she’s searching for connections in the viral world that she hasn’t found in the real one, though the responses are an expected mix of enthusiasm and vilification. LIKE ME is Mockler’s examination of alienation in the Internet age, and he, co-editor/producer Jessalyn Abbott and cinematographer James Siewert express Kiya’s disconnect from reality via surreal montages, bizarre sights (including trippy digitally animated moments) and a color scheme somewhere between that of a giallo film and a tween fashion commercial.
Mockler’s message is vividly expressed, if not entirely fresh, though it’s not LIKE ME’s only focus. The movie arrives at its story center when Kiya takes a room at a seaside motel and lures in its manager, Marshall (Fessenden). She binds him to the bed for what he thinks is going to be some kinky hanky-panky, but turns out to be the beginning of a bizarre kidnapping scenario complete with Stockholm Syndrome overtones. And while, again, LIKE ME isn’t a traditional scare movie, the sight of the bound Marshall being force-fed assorted food and drink to bursting is pretty disturbing and hard to watch.
Although Mockler and co.’s aggressive approach to the visuals continues throughout, LIKE ME also slows down at many moments to observe the interactions between Kiya and Marshall. Timlin, a strong presence in movies ranging from LITTLE SISTER to the TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN remake, fully expresses Kiya’s twisted, damaged but still empathetic soul, while Fessenden plays off her with a well-pitched combination of edge and pathos. Also notable is Ian Nelson, playing to a T a teenage jerk named Burt who trashes Kiya and her videos on-line.
As is also usual for Glass Eye projects, LIKE ME sports sterling production values on a small budget, allowing Mockler to immerse the viewer in strange environments, most notably that room where Kiya holds Marshall captive (amazingly, shot at an actual motel in the Rockaways and not on sets). Composer Giona Ostinelli, who also did the honors on Mickey Keating’s DARLING and CARNAGE PARK, provides just the right, discordant musical accompaniment. LIKE ME may be a deep dive into the insanity fostered by our personal devices, but it’s accomplished enough to reward viewing on the big screen during its limited theatrical release that begins today.