We Got This Covered
Like Me Review [SXSW 2017]
by Matt Donato
Like Me is more than a movie title. It’s a plea made to an entire generation of social media users. Filmmaker Robert Mockler dives into murky online waters of constant approval, fame and millennial obsessions with a like-based culture, all prevalent in society’s 21st-century screen fixation. As a junkie tweaks for their next hit, social media users also calculate their next play at attention. Yesterday’s shocks are forgotten overnight, as audiences awake with a new craving daily. Please the masses, and watch the hits roll in. But even then, when will the hunger subside?
Addison Timlin stars as Kiya, a young woman searching for her next YouTube masterpiece. Kiya’s photographic artwork only garners so much attention from internet fans (food chewing videos/yoga poses), which means the ante must be raised. It’s a “harmless” stunt, where she holds a convenience store clerk at *fake* gunpoint – but the man (Jeremy Gardner) still pisses himself without knowing the difference. Kiya uploads the video, and it goes viral overnight to the tune of 2 million hits. The internet is buzzing about her stunt, some praising the humor, while others – like Burt (Ian Nelson) – condemn her sick social disease. Either way, Kiya realizes what the people want, and she aims to please. Even if it means kidnapping a motel owner named Marshall (Larry Fessenden).
Mockler’s style will challenge some viewers since it’s comparable to a luminescent art installation. From the film’s first shot – a glowing drive-thru mart – to its last beachy view, visuals are of a psychotropic nature. Characters ingest drugs and sniff paint, unlocking hallucinogenic highs like a neon-green eel slithering out of someone’s open wound. As Kiya plays arcade shooter games or gazes upon the ocean (between scenic palm trees), cinematography frames these neo-Vegas portraits with arresting beauty. It might be a bit too “freaky” for some during fast-paced montages that flash animated wolves and blinking eyes, but Mockler’s introspective vision-quest is a wild visual feast nonetheless.
Even more sickening (in a positive way) are Mockler’s metaphors, since Kiya is obsessed with (over)consumption. More than one scene features a zoom-in on her chewing, mouth wide open. It’s always junk food. Cheese balls. Pizza. Gummies. A comment on the sugary, toxic digital garbage we shovel into our souls. Hateful online communities, money-sapping “games” and pictures so heavily filtered you wouldn’t even recognize the subject in public. We idolize the unknown, only to have it be someone like Kiya – a product of pressures coming from voices behind a monitor. Audiences push because we want to see someone break (the new-age Roman gladiator arena). That’s what gets views these days, isn’t it? It’s nauseating because it should be. Mashed cereal between teeth is no less disgusting than children who re-post Instagram pictures until they achieve the most likes, because self-worth is now measured in cartoon hearts.
Timlin turns in a provocative, wounded performance as Kiya, so caught up in her journey for stardom. She’s a loner who lives out of her car and struggles with human interaction. Larry Fessenden’s “prisoner” Marshall represents Kiya’s only real friend, but even that’s because he just doesn’t want to die (his own food scene is a testament Fessenden’s legendary genre status). As Timlin swings on a hammock, wearing a white wig and shredded stocking mask, her confidence is nothing but a cover for vulnerability. Follower numbers and commenter discourse spike her dopamine levels. Ian Nelson’s scathing hypocrisy as a master troll should reduce Timlin to tears (another oh-so-nasty, meaty performance), but instead, she views each take-down as a challenge. “Some dumb bitch with an iPhone,” proclaims Nelson’s basement dweller, as he notes that Timlin’s just trying to find fame before she “shits out a kid and dies of cancer.” It’s a triangle of intertwined souls who mirror the internet’s darkest reaches: the fame slut, the vile ogre and the victim. All real, and all brilliantly realized.
Mockler’s aesthetic is strong and performances are powerful, but there’s a lesser through-line for Timlin’s fiery arc. One of the YouTube commenters jokes about Kiya’s ability to get away with these “pranks,” which raises a fair point as police intervention is never an issue. Although, that can be laughed off – unlike sequences that are visual-heavy and thinly scripted. Like Me benefits from style, glamor and pinkish coloring, but needs a bit stronger narrative to break the next level. Needless to say, few films actually DO reach the next level I’m referencing, and for a feature debut, Mockler asserts himself as a creatively-driven madman whose vision blisters with illuminated curiosity. He’s going to try things, and that’s an exciting feeling. Please, do no leash this man.
The internet can be a lonely placed filled with temptation, and Like Me is just one warning scenario. A movie like Tragedy Girls plays a bit more on the nose, but writer/director Robert Mockler goes the more fever-dreamy route. Consequence echoes as loudly as actions, tracing back intent to typed words that some random username didn’t think twice about posting. Addison Timlin plays a systemic product, born from human desires that are warped into a crippling addiction. Feast on Nightmare On Elm Street inspired rooms and car rides through a jelly-floating vortex (very Willy Wonka-ish), but don’t lose focus. This is a cry for reassessment that needs to be heard. You know, before we’re electing presidential candidates based on their Twitter followers…
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March 16, 2017
‘Like Me’ Review: Addison Timlin is a Psychopath for the Viral Media Age — SXSW 2017 Review
Rob Mockler’s debut is an unsettling vision of a young woman obsessed with internet fame.
by Eric Kohn
There may be no idea more contemporary than a demented character using the internet in the reckless pursuit of fame. Writer-director Rob Mockler’s debut, “Like Me,” distills that motif to a ferocious young woman so compelled to create online sensations that they drive her insane. It’s an obvious conceit and doesn’t offer new insights, but Mockler transforms the material into a solid thriller with an edgy vision of millennial lunacy, sketching out a psychopath unique to the viral video age.
That would be Kiya (Addison Timlin), a mysterious prankster first seen recording a convenience store clerk late at night as she puts a gun to his head and he begs for his life. The video instantly takes off, generating heated debates across the web and Mockler’s stylish montage captures the overlapping conversations with a knack for featuring the disorienting chaos of modern discourse.
Meanwhile, Kiya watches the mayhem and plots her next move. With no precise backstory, she’s a symbol of youth rebellion — decked out in torn jeans and dark jackets with shadowy black hair atop a piercing gaze, she’s Lisbeth Salander with a YouTube fetish.
“Like Me” falls in line with contemporary tech-thrillers like “King Kelly” and “Nerve,” in which young people exploit digital tools to fixate on the dangerous extremes of exhibitionism. Kiya’s a fascinating entry in part because she has no purpose other than her relentless quest to capture bizarre events and share them with the world. Taking a homeless man to a diner, she toys with her food to a grotesque degree, and it’s unclear what will happen next.
While her peculiar behavior is a reasonable embodiment of a mind reared on random online antics, “Like Me” initially seems like a high concept in search of a movie. Kiya’s intriguing but not particularly substantial. We learn nothing about what compelled her to these extremes, only that they’ve already consumed her. Timlin has a certain uneasiness during these early scenes, even as Mockler’s screenplay is hobbled by overstating the bigger picture. In the aftermath of her first video, Kiva finds herself in the crosshairs of an internet critic whose heavy-handed vitriol takes the material in a blunt direction.
Fortunately, he’s not the focus. “Like Me” settles into an off-kilter kidnapping saga when Kiya comes across paint-huffing artist Marshall (horror maven Larry Fessenden, in the latest role that finds him suffering for the camera) and forces him to guzzle down unthinkably disgusting layers of junk food while tied to a bed. Then they hit the road and things get really weird. Bullets fly, a rat escapes, and drug-fueled binges lead to some next-level hallucinations as “Like Me” goes down the rabbit hole of mental instability with unfettered energy.
Mockler’s imagery is a bit all over the place, but his reference points are clear. Equal parts “Spring Breakers” and “Requiem for a Dream,” the neon-soaked palette could exist in the same unhinged universes. At times the imagery suggests an eagerness to funnel existing avant-garde traditions into a fresh narrative context. At one point, Kiya playfully attempts to seduce Marshall by dangling from the ceiling in a hammock, her face obscured, like some anthropomorphized version of the human reproductive system out of Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster” cycle; later, she sits outside by the fire next to a stack of television monitors broadcasting static that resemble the deconstructive media installation art of Nam June Paik.
All of these bits unfold alongside the same discordant editing style, which includes rapid-fire cutaways to animation, closeups of chewing mouths, and other visual non sequiturs that endow the film with punk-rock attitude, contextualizing online fame seekers as the ultimate outlaws. The self-serious atmosphere gets a bit tedious, but not before an expertly realized moment of suspense — one that’s built around the construction of a tourniquet and a psychedelic vision involving horse tranquilizers.
Ultimately, “Like Me” delivers a wonderfully twisted antihero only possible in the 21st century, but falls short of giving her much to do. However, the story arrives at a grim finale as two characters keen on murdering each other crack up. It’s hard to tell whether they mean it — but that’s the tantalizing focus of “Like Me,” which drives home the notion that there’s a fine line between a mean-spirited joke and something far more hideous.
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March 17, 2017
“What If There’s More To Tell?”
by Patrick Phillips
Film synopses are often misleading. To the point that I try not to read them. But when you’re sorting through festival screenings, synopses are usually ground zero. I gave the blurb for Robert Mockler’s Like Me little more than a casual glance and wrote it off as a tween ‘social media obsessed’ drama. Then I found a different movie to see in that time slot. But serendipity is beautiful thing. That other film’s screening was completely booked up. I was stuck in line with no plan. Like Me was next up on the docket. So I bought the ticket. I took the ride. I found out that Like Me‘s synopsis was very misleading. And that’s a good thing.
That was apparent a couple of minutes into the film. Mockler opens the action at a drive thru grocery store in the middle of nowhere. It’s night. Christmas music is playing. A burly, bearded gentlemen is minding the shop when a shabby little Oldsmobile drives up. After a tense silence, a woman’s voice simply says, ‘I want some milk.’ The woman makes her way into the store. She wears a mask. She points her camera phone at the burly man like a gun. She says not a word. It almost feels like a bad joke … until it doesn’t. When that shift comes, the scene escalates in wildly unpredictable ways.
Wildly unpredictable is the only way to describe the story that follows. That heist video winds up on YouTube. It makes an overnight sensation of Kiya (Addison Timlin) the young woman that executed the ordeal. Viewer comments drive Kiya to escalate her antics in increasingly dangerous fashion. So yes, for simplicity’s sake you could say that Like Me is a drama about social media obsession. But that’s not at all what Like Me is. There’s no ‘unfriending’ high school drama. There’s no annoying little texting bubbles or Tweeting graphics. No, Mockler takes that setup and spins an arresting tale of modern isolation from it.
Much of that tale unfolds on a days-long ‘crime spree’ leading Kiya on an uncomfortable late-night diner binge, to a themed ocean-side motel, and on a doomed road trip with a complete stranger. All the while her camera is rolling (minus the one precarious/hilarious moment it isn’t). And all the while her viewers fuel the fire. But Kiya never seems to get any real pleasure out of the online attention. Every escalating adventure leaves her less engaged with the real world. As Kiya’s journey descends into a surrealist nightmare, it becomes a delicate balancing act between hyper-stylized visuals and stark, melancholic realism.
Mockler proves himself more than up to the task. The first-time feature director guides Like Me through its myriad of tonal shifts and stylistic flourishes with the grace of a seasoned filmmaker. His story is erratic and prone to flights of fancy, but the finished product is fluid and focused. And his unruly story unfolds – even in its fantastical moments – with a captivating level of naturalism. The naturalism proves a stark counterpoint to the expressionistic flourishes that Director of Photography James Siewert brings to the table. Siewert and Mockler use vibrant coloring, disorienting camerawork, expressive animation and dazzlingly simple effects to bring Kiya’s nightmare to life. But they always seem to know when to reign things in. Like Me often plays like a farce, but it never feels that way.
In fact, the film is most alive in the quiet moments in between. The moments when Giona Ostinelli’s score builds a dreamy sense of doom under the stillness. The moments when Mockler lets his camera linger on the face of Addison Timlin in all of its fragile instability. The face that effortlessly projects the innocence and menace and loneliness and dismay that form the twisted inner world of Kiya.
If you’re not familiar with Timlin, now’s the time to take notice. Zach Clark used her fragile features to striking effect in last year’s Little Sister. But nothing can prepare you for what Timlin brings to Like Me. She commands every single moment of this film. She imbues Kiya with a real-world complexity that lends the story a credibility that the narrative doesn’t quite earn. And she finds a welcome partner in the ever-adventurous Larry Fessenden, who gives the performance of his career as a paint-huffing loner named Marshall (Larry Fessenden). That’s no joke, by the way. Fessenden really is great in this film. It’s the sort of performance that makes you wish he’d stop letting people poke objects through his head … or stomach … or other body parts in movies and just be an actor.
And Like Me is the sort of film that will make you wish more directors would take big chances. Much like his story, Mockler’s film plays like an escalating game of risk. Every twist and turn and unorthodox decision could’ve led the first-timer’s film to ruin. But he pushed limits. He took chances. He made a devastating little film that’s not like anything else you’ve seen before. It’s far from perfect. But it’s likely to be the most exciting debut you’ll see this year. Or maybe any.
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When I was nineteen I spent three straight days without sleeping. I had just moved to Tokyo and couldn’t cope with the light pollution or the sounds from the trains that ran behind my flat. I would spend the nights listening to relaxing music and watch films during the day. On the third morning at around 4AM I made an instant coffee and decided to put on Enter the Void.
The first thing I heard after listening to a recording of Enya’s Paint The Sky With Stars on repeat for some three hours, and not having slept through two slow nights, was the Thomas Bangalter scored opening credits. I’d never again feel as disorientated as I was in those two and a half minutes; but watching Robert Mockler’s Like Me, I came close.
Like Me marks the first time Robert Mockler has been credited as a director and writer of a feature length film. The film, which premiered at this year’s SXSW Film Festival in Austin Texas, is eighty minutes of visual portraits pieced together by tactile transitions, lucid VFX and a millennial journey.
Addison Timlin plays Kiya, a young girl who amasses a huge social following after posting a video of herself holding up a convenience store with a replica weapon. She takes her newfound popularity on the road and begins to film her encounters with a string of unusual characters, eventually taking a paedophile, ‘Marshall’ (Larry Fessenden), hostage, to mixed reactions from the online community. An antagonistic vlogger, Burt (Ian Nelson), begins to take Kiya’s videos apart, and her journey becomes visceral as Burt begins to impact both her content and her psyche.
Kiya guides us through her journey. She tests the humanity of the characters she meets, finding that a vagabond doesn’t want much more than pancakes from a diner, or that a painter who believes there is no age of consent had lost his own daughter at a young age. Kiya studies these characters and presents them to us; but often she seems to be neither a part of the film nor the viewership. She’s more like the kid holding a magnifying glass over an anthill.
Addison Timlin is perfect as Kiya, even if the character is not a strictly formed one with laborious dialogue. She has again shown her ability to completely comprehend the characters she’s becoming. Like her performance in Little Sister, she brings a sense of palpability to the role and becomes so natural as Kiya that the film, in moments, feels kind of like an Addison Timlin vlog, like she’s simply playing herself (with exception of the scenes where she’s forcing food into Marshall’s throat and telling him, “you’re going to eat or you’re going to bleed”).
What makes Like Me so mystifying to the senses is the intense cinematography and editing. Every shot is beautiful. Every background, shadow and light setting progresses the film like a series of paintings, ushering the narrative from frame to frame as if it were an exhibition across a gallery wall. The lighting and colours filter the film in two schemes, the afternoon pink skies and radiant neon signs to moments of moonlight blue and shadow. Both ethereal and at every shot, meticulously thought out.
The experimentation behind the lens continues through to the cutting room floor with disorientating and innovative shots that mess with the audience and remove any limits to the camera’s function. Shots will revolve around rooms and bury through the floor, while actors become stuck in a glitch-like trance, moving in two-second motions, back and forth on loop.
It’s these scenes that make Like Me feel like one long hallucinogenic journey. Although not directing the film, drugs play a part in Kiya’s internal narrative and are managed in a tacitly accurate sense. Ketamine is blue and calm, and doesn’t make a lot of sense, MDMA is sense-altering and intense, where mushrooms give the film its ‘baby on the ceiling’ moment, as a snake slides from Marshall’s bullet wound and into the alternate dimension that has surrounded Kiya.
At times the film does get lost in its own eccentricity, sacrificing the plot beneath the layers of art. The balance between progressing the narrative while constantly combing it to assure its uniform in style throughout, tips slightly through the second half of the film. Scenes like Kiya chasing Burt through the streets of a sunny city before inexplicably arriving at a foggy beachfront leave viewers with a decision to make about the symbolism of each moment, and what’s been done just because it looked good.
The film is still one of the most refreshing indie debuts in a long time. It is an experiment in style and as well shot as any box office film released this decade. While the plot at times fades into its own aestheticism, the acting and the unique style excel the film into rare territory for contemporary cinema.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
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SXSW FILM FESTIVAL MOVIE REVIEW: LIKE ME
by The Creeping Craig
Writer/Director Robert Mockler’s feature LIKE ME calls for a bit of a different review. After all, this film is all about a girl who buys into social media so much that she completely forgets how to connect with people. Given that this causes her to kidnap someone and go on a weird spree, I think anyone watching this would agree that a traditional review just will not do this justice.
As such, let us go a different route. First of all, do me one favor, DO NOT CLICK LIKE ON THIS REVIEW. Let’s not perpetuate this reliance on social media. I will very quickly know who actually bothered to read this just by whether or not they clicked like (ooh, social experiment!).
I know, this is weird, but it is very much in the spirit of this movie.
How, one might ask?
Well, you see, this piece is all about obsessing over social media. The thrust of our action is an artist who posts a video online and suddenly has a lot of people reacting to the footage. When someone calls her out, in a way that hits too close to home, she decides she must somehow connect with an actual person.
While this may seem like the stuff of a cerebral, introspective drama, they never quite take events in that direction. Instead, we are offered a kidnap movie where she slowly befriends the older man she has ensnared. Their time together is a highlight of this piece as their relationship is constantly switching from touching to combative. The performance given by Larry Fessenden is one of the best I have ever seen him give and fans of his should run to check this out.
Addison Timlin is no slouch herself as she perfectly embodies a young, obsessive woman who is trying to figure out her place in life. The first portion of the feature has her trying to listen more than talk, making her facial expressions our only window into her thought process. As she begins to come out of her shell more, her range reveals itself through her vulnerability and uncertainty with human connection.
All the while, she continues her artistic and online endeavors which allows for some truly stunning visuals. In all honesty, the look of this alone makes it worth a watch as there are so many amazing lighting features, camera shots, and color schemes at work that it really feels like a moving work of art in and of itself. From the crazy paintings in the room to the psychedelic drugged up sequences later in the film, this is a visual feast for the eyes that is sure to captivate.
In a few recent reviews I have commented upon music, so I feel I must give just a moment’s notice to the score. This was an odd and engrossing soundtrack that drew me in right from the get-go. Like walking through an art museum, the score tried on many different styles to varying degrees of success. Some I am still hearing one day later, others, though, I don’t recall as clearly, but either way I respect the approach taken as doing something wholly different is in short supply these days.
Listen, this is a movie that has a little something for everyone so I recommend all to give it a view. It is beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time with equal measures given to style and character development. The performers are also at the top of their game bringing a lot of weight to this visually stunning journey of self-discovery.
Once again, I want to stress, please DO NOT CLICK LIKE. Instead see this movie and talk with someone about what it meant to you. Create a connection, get out there, be with people and experience art at the same time.
The Creeping Craig
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SXSW Review: Like Me
by Eric Havens
There will be much discussion and dissent when conversations about ‘Like Me’, the debut feature film by Robert Mockler, break out. There will be those who adore it, there will be those who despise it, but there is no debate about one thing; this film is exactly what it wants to be. Rarely is there such an impressive example of a singular visual attack within a film, let alone a film by a first-time feature director. The film opens in a standard thriller style, there is an ominous person with a mask threatening someone.
Then something happens, the film shifts into a visual, abstract attack of colors and images. It is the closest thing on film that captures what browsing social media feels like. It is discomforting, strange, and undeniably compelling. Within the first ten minutes, Like Me captures why social media is both incredibly addictive and incredibly destructive. It eats away at us with the rapid fire images and sensations we’ve all become accustomed to. The movie, much like the internet, flashes images and sequences that tap into our pleasure center, releasing all kinds of unintended endorphins.
Then it stops.
We return to our protagonist in her red and blue world, everything reduced to primary colors. After the visual onslaught, this world seems dreary, boring, and lonely. This is the world of our protagonist. She records herself antagonizing people and uploads it to the internet. This is her drug, this is her endorphin release. But when it’s over, when the high lessens, when commenters start criticizing her, she crashes and hits her lonely world once again.
If this narrative doesn’t properly capture our post-social media world I’m not sure what would. Film, as an art form, is powerful in the sense that it can capture uncommunicable emotion and perceptions with images and colors. Mockler and his film makes full use of these tools. While Like Me isn’t a traditional narrative the sequence of events, more experiential than tangible, manage to propel ideas and characters forward with an effectiveness that is shocking. Rarely can an “abstract” film feel so relatable and measurable. In a sense, how else would you capture the essence of social media in any other way? In a world when images, videos, and updates flash by us at an unsustainable pace, how else would you capture the result on our brains than with a film that emulates the same sensation?
Then there is the exploration of the generational divide. This film is broken into three generations. The older generation, the generation of our protagonist, and the younger generation. Her interactions with the older generation is always tangible, in the real world, and confrontational. Her interactions with her own generation are exclusively online and equally confrontational. She has some supporters, many detractors, and one notable antagonist. Her interactions with the younger generation is brief, but it is inarguably her most successful communication. One wonders what statement that is making about our communal future.
So, while Like Me may not be a film everyone will be able to engage with, it is a film that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. It captures, analyzes, and questions our current online social paradigm with a stylized fervor that is both impressive and effective.
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A surreal film explores loneliness through YouTube culture
by Megan Farokhmanesh
It’s easy to read Like Me as a fatalistic commentary on social media. Kiya, the film’s star, is a teenage YouTuber who makes the antics of personalities like PewDiePie seem quaint. In the film’s first 15 minutes, she holds a convenience store clerk at gunpoint just for the pleasure of recording his meltdown and posting it online.
But Kiya — who seems to have an obsession with older men, and a dark need for validation — is speaking to an audience. As her videos hit the internet, they spawn a web of reactions ranging from disgusting to delighted that feel right at home on the internet today.
Kiya’s driving force could be boiled down to one audience member in particular. With each outrageous new stunt she pulls, this sneering viewer has a cutting commentary on her weak “attention whore” stunts. Through online videos, he taunts Kiya, dictating new lines of one-upmanship, and pushing her to cross them. As the film progresses, so do Kiya’s ambitions; she ups her game to include kidnapping, assault, and even snuff films before she confronts her rival.
Rob Mockler, the film’s writer, directer, and editor, describes the film’s conception as part of a knee-jerk reaction to social media. “I thought it was a real absurd step for humanity, and I thought it was kind of scary in some ways,” he says. It made him seek validation in something as simple as posting a photo online — and then doubt himself if people didn’t like it. “[Social media] changed how I feel we look at ourselves. We’re now sort of crafting, we’re curating memories, we’re crafting our identities like never before. There’s this real-time sort of authorship of who we are as people.”
Like Me pushes this idea in a fantastical, over-the-top way. The film, clocking in around 80 minutes, leans heavily into high-concept directing. It’s a strange tale told through neon colors, uncomfortable close-ups, and looped moments that Mockler says were inspired by GIFs. Kiya pursues her guaranteed self-destruction like a dog chasing a car, but she never feels like a fully realized character. She’s a living metaphor for loneliness and attention-seeking, but the film never addresses why she is this way. Her choices are erratic: she kidnaps a man, then treats him as a sort of pet, then doles out more abuse.
Kiya would be a modern-day femme fatale — seducing a man twice her age, then enacting punishment — if she weren’t so young. There’s something uncomfortable about the way the film walks this tightrope. One scene paints Kiya as a wide-eyed wild child quietly asking for stories; in another, she wears a bobbed wig and swings from a high-mounted hotel room hammock while encouraging a man to strip. Her beauty and inherent darkness is fetishized, with one character describing her looks as “wicked.” But the film is forgiving about her behavior, possibly because of her appearance: at one point a character tells her she still hasn’t committed a crime she couldn’t get away with, as a pretty girl.
Asked what the film means, or what Kiya’s motives are, Mockler was cryptic in a way even he admits is cliché. After the film, I spoke to one viewer who said it felt like a love story; to me, it felt more like modern horror. When I asked the director how he felt about both interpretations, he was vague, reiterating only that Like Me is deeply rooted in loneliness. “I think they’re all trying to connect in some sort of strange way,” he said of the film’s characters. “These are all the sort of flawed people who are kind of outliers, who are just trying to connect to other people.” He pushed back against the idea that he holds a pessimistic view of social media, saying instead that there’s simply a strange slice of it that we should question.
“For me, [Like Me] started as this universal story about loneliness and how we try to connect with people, and how that sometimes manifests in strange, scary, and violent ways,” he says. “It’s this feeling of being lost and vulnerable and scared and feeling like you’re judged, and wanting to reach out in some way to someone else to see if they feel that, too.”
Like Me’s vision isn’t cynical, then, but tragic. Kiya has no clear goal. She’s desperate for connection, but hasn’t had to face consequences yet for what she’s done. The rush of attention she receives for each new stunt ebbs and flows like the waves of the beach the film ends on, but it’s hard to feel pity for her. She’s almost literally getting away with murder, but the weight of her actions doesn’t feel real. Like any good photo or video, Like Me aims to show only the juiciest bits. How the mess gets cleaned up isn’t for us to see.
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SXSW 2017 Interview: Writer / Director Robert Mockler Discusses LIKE ME
by Heather Wixson
A haunting, neon-soaked fever dream that tackles the dangers of viral media and loneliness, first-time director Robert Mockler’s drama, Like Me, was unlike anything else I saw during the 2017 SXSW Film Festival, and features brilliant performances from Addison Timlin as Kiya and indie filmmaking icon Larry Fessenden as a man she kidnaps on her crime-fueled journey.
While in Austin, Daily Dead spoke with Mockler about his approach to the story of Like Me, his experiences collaborating with Timlin, how Fessenden became a mentor to him throughout the process of making his debut feature, and more.
Really great job, Robert. I would love to hear about where the genesis of this idea for the film came from. Clearly, there are a lot of issues that you tackle in this that are very relevant to what’s going on, especially with online culture these days. You took an unusual route here, and it’s incredibly fascinating.
Robert Mockler: That’s so good to hear. A fear of mine was that I know this story goes to a dark place, and I know there are moments where I’m like, Whoa, that’s kind of a walk-out moment type of situation. So this film became this whole scenario of, “Can we delicately straddle that line and not get gratuitous, but make the experience real and palpable enough to really touch a nerve without being exploitative or going overboard?”
But as far as the genesis of the idea, that came from this place where I always wanted to make a movie about loneliness. I wanted to be a filmmaker ever since I saw Star Wars, but then there were those movies that made me realize, Oh, movies can be something else, too. I saw Taxi Driver and Requiem for a Dream. That’s what really launched me on a path starting to write and doing those sorts of projects, and how I got into these “lonely man” movies, which includes Taxi Driver, The Conversation, and The Tenant.
I just saw this project as an opportunity, with this strange paradigm shift of social media, to put a magnifying glass on loneliness and filling a void. I felt that it was a great opportunity to try to do that sort of idea that I’d been thinking about for a while.
So much of this movie revolves around Addison’s performance, and she’s fantastic. She has a lot of really subtle character moments, and I was curious if those were all in the script, or did you guys workshop those together?
Robert Mockler: Most of it was in the script, but Addison also brought a lot of it just on the day, and then through conversations we would have and even through the editing process, too. I talked to her a lot because I felt like this was her character, and I wanted her to have authorship over it. The thing about Addison is that she gives you so many options that in the edit, your problem is that you have too many good takes. And it was a great problem to have, really.
She made Kiya three-dimensional, and it would have been very easy for this material, in the wrong hands, to not work at all. Addison is so delightful to watch work. It’s magical and it was a joy to watch her on set every day.
Another thing I wanted to commend you on was the casting of Larry as Marshall. He’s been a fixture in indie filmmaking for decades now, and it’s always fun when he has these cameos and smaller roles, but you give him such great material to work with here. For a big chunk of this movie, he’s just as front and center as Addison is, and I loved that.
Robert Mockler: He really is. Originally, he was just on as a producer, but I was struggling to find Marshall. And his Blu-ray box set [Scream Factory’s The Larry Fessenden Collection] had just came out, and I hadn’t seen Habit in a little while, so I watched it again. I just fell in love with his performance in that film all over again. I missed this version of Larry and I wanted to see if he was interested in going back to that. And, at first, he was reluctant. But then, when he embraced it, not only did he deliver such a sensitive and delicate performance, but he made the character all his own. Again, Marshall was a character that could have gone really wrong in the wrong hands.
But Larry was a real mentor to me throughout the entire process of making Like Me, because I’m new to this entire thing. He was someone that I could always rely on, and he was very generous with his time. If I was ever in a pinch, or was feeling insecure or I was just lost, I could talk it through with him. I love his movies, I love his ability as an actor, and he’s a great friend and a mentor.
Can you discuss how you approached the visuals in Like Me, because generally when you think of movies about loneliness, you always think of drab, cold colors. And yet, so much of this movie is very vibrant and really bold.
Robert Mockler: The idea was to reflect Kiya’s inner headspace, which is not so drab. Color is really important to me, and when I’m editing, I have to apply some sort of preliminary color grade before I can start editing, because for whatever reason, I feel like that helps me tap into the tonality of the scene. That’s a little unconventional and at times I think my producers were like, “Just find the narrative already.” I would just say to them, “But I’ve got to get the color right, first.” For whatever reason, it’s my window into the feeling of the film, and going that route helped me a lot on this.
Being an independent movie, a lot of times directors have to create these stories that take place in one location because of their budget. With this, you have multiple locations and you’re on the road for part of it, too. Was that one of the biggest challenges in terms of getting this film made, just making sure you could find these locations and be able to take the show on the road?
Robert Mockler: Absolutely. So many people would read this script and say, “Too many locations. No, you can’t do it.” And then, when I met Glass Eye Pix and I met Jenn Wexler, she thought we could do it. She helped put together a schedule that I thought was aggressive, but she was like, “I think you can do this.” And she was right. It was nerve-racking, but she figured it out. And Jessalyn [Abbott], the other producer on the project, she had this incredible ability to find amazing locations. She just found so many beautiful places, all within a close proximity, in such a short period of time. We were very, very lucky to have her.
This is your first film, which blows my mind after seeing it. And now you’re here at SXSW with Glass Eye Pix behind it, and you’ve got an amazing cast and crew all behind you. How surreal has this whole experience been for you being a first-timer and really putting yourself out there like this?
Robert Mockler: Honestly, it’s like an out-of-body experience. I don’t think I’m going to digest it until it’s over, really. SXSW is the festival we wanted to premiere at, so it’s just all been a mind-blowing experience. I came here seven years ago, and I watched the Indiana Jones trilogy on 35mm, sitting next to Robert Rodriguez. It was one of those things where I just felt connected to the fabric of filmmaking, and, as geeky as that sounds, it was so profound for me. So to be back here, with my own movie, is so cool.
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