To her rabidly escalating Internet fans and detractors, Kiya (Addison Timlin) has a name and not much else. Prowling the city streets while searching for her latest victim to humiliate for the delight and disdain of her viewers, she appears to have but one goal: to achieve online infamy. In her drive to go viral, however, she has become an empty shell of a human being. Without her smartphone, who is she? And how far is she willing to go to keep her audience interested? "Like Me" is the visually snazzy directorial debut of Robert Mockler, a part-thriller, part-satire, part-character study about someone who remains, for all intents and purposes, a blank slate throughout. Mockler's technical ambitions are bold, but as a cautionary tale about real-world desensitization in a social-media age, it lacks any fresh insights.
Kiya isn't exactly the most appealing of heroinesher actions are really rather despicable from scene one, when she terrifies a gas station attendant (Jeremy Gardner) by throwing on a mask and pointing a gun and a camera in his facewhich makes it all the more crucial that someone as charismatic as Addison Timlin (2014's "The Town That Dreaded Sundown
") is in the role. Timlin is watchable to a fault, finding silent, subtle ways to register the deep-seated damage behind her eyes. Alas, these issues remain unspoken suggestions, never delved into. Indeed, even her age is in question; she tells pervy motel owner Marshall (Larry Fessenden) she is seventeen, but even this is most likely a lie.
Without digging beneath Kiya's disturbingly alluring surface, "Like Me" threatens to lose itself in its own lawless grotesqueries. The core narrative thread, finding Kiya abducting Marshall and taking him on the road as she decides how she wants to exploit him to her viewers, centers on the dangerously dysfunctional quasi-friendship they formone that, for both parties, is disposable as soon he finds a way to escape or she sets her sights on a new victim. A scene where she ties him to a bed and force-feeds him junk food until he's ready to regurgitate for the camera is stomach-churning, but at least it takes place in a production designer's wet dream, the red-painted ceiling seemingly dripping down the walls like blood. Much of the picture is like this, the unpleasantness of its subject matter offset by its remarkable aesthetics of a world caught between a perverse fairy tale and a neon-hued bacchanalia.
Like Kiya's shady online persona, though, what you see is ultimately the only thing you can expect to get. The rest is locked away, itsand herprovocative potential left unexplored. "Like Me" is easy to admire, but difficult to warm to, culminating as the story inevitably must in an act of recorded violence Kiya can never take back. Overshadowed in many ways by a far superior cinestudy of social-media intoxication and treachery, 2016's illuminating, blackly comic and deeply poignant "Ingrid Goes West
," this edgier yet less textured take proves emotionally aloof. For as three-dimensional as Ingrid (played unforgettably by Aubrey Plaza) became, Kiya remains a walking cipher. Perhaps this is Mockler's whole point, that his protagonist has lost herself to her unhealthy obsession for superficial web-based validation. The trouble is that he never seems to care about the person living behind the façade.