Vloggers are depressing. Sure, you watch a few and maybe even secretly wish you could be one of the many gabbing faces giving their latest ‘hot take’ on a new superhero movie or “5 ways to life hack your food challenge” through their iPhone and littering youtube with an abundance of free content that people enjoy, but everyone eventually comes to the sad, true realization that these people are lonely.
And honestly, so are the people who watch it. Now, loneliness is not a personality trait exclusive to the vlogging community, but the very nature of such an endeavor betrays a certain cloying neediness – please watch me, please share my content, please give me a thumbs up, please – PLEASE – like me. That gets to the heart of the matter when it comes to Robert Mockler’s Like Me: loneliness in an interconnected world where everyone’s loneliness is on full display.
Synopsis: “A young woman sets out on a crime spree that she broadcasts on social media.”
Kiya (Addison Timlin) is the face of a modern social media. In a world that is plagued with unlimited connectivity, she is utterly incapable of actually connecting with someone – beyond the infliction of violence. That violence gets a reaction – likes, dislikes, reaction videos (the accuracy of these videos are just…ugh) – from her fellow vloggers that seems to stave Kiya’s loneliness, if only for a short while. The film opens with her robbing a convenience store with an unloaded gun followed quickly by the internet analyzing, dissecting and offering their own takes on the video she uploads documenting it. Beyond that, she lives a solitary lifestyle, drifting from one motel and wandering the streets late at night, existing only as an entity in search of the next ‘moment’ that will illicit more reactions from her viewing audience.
Mockler choice to isolate Kiya illustrates the stark contrast between the online/offline lives we all lead on social media/vlogs. Everything that comes across your feed is highly curated to show that this person’s life is the height of drama in an exciting, witty, fun-filled life. The true loneliness that accompanies this is never addressed as it would ruin the “magic” of what social media is capable of. Kiya walks through hauntingly beautiful city streets and sits on the beach admiring a gorgeous moonrise amidst the crashing waves and palm trees, but she doesn’t know how to process it without a ‘like’ button to click on. While so many people put up the front of having bold, enriching lives online, the cold reality offline is usually far less glamorous and the addiction to performing an exciting imagined life can lead people down some dark roads.
Even when she does try to reach out to human being IRL, it is the same kind of transactional relationship that people get from vloggers. She picks up a homeless man off the street, offering pancakes in exchange for him telling her a story. Like someone clicking on a youtube video, Kiya expects entertainment and some kind of constructed but ultimately hollow connection from a sad, desperate stranger. When she goes to the bathroom, she returns to find the homeless man gone before she’s gotten her story. She’ll just have to wait until next week’s vlog to find out more – if only she could have subscribed to his channel…
(major spoilers from here on out)
Kiya meets/kidnaps Marshall a hotel owner with a propensity for huffing spray paint from a paper bag. He becomes her muse (of sorts) for her next series of videos, in which she basically takes him on a cross-country torture road show. She also adopts a rat (another asymmetrical emotional relationship) whom she refuses to give a name because the rat won’t know the difference. Marshall quips, “…but the name’s not for the rat is it?” – another example of the false-intimacy created by vloggers/viewers that Kiya thrives in. Marshall, while not the most sympathetic figure ever put on screen, becomes Kiya’s subject for most of her vlogs – all involving his torture in some capacity. Ultimately she uses his pain as currency in terms of garnering more attention. While trafficking in human misery is more closely associated with the rise of the 24 hour news networks, social media/vlogging has seen its fair share of similar exploitive behavior (see the recent controversy regarding that fame-hungry youtuber who filmed a suicide victim in Japan as evidence of this).
The end of Like Me is the most fascinating part as Kiya tracks down a fellow vlogger (Burt) who continually cuts her down in his reactions videos. Once she finds him she chases him onto a foggy beach, murdering him while she records it. Kiya then quietly sits on the beach as the mist overtakes her. This visual is one of many haunting, subversive visuals that burrow into your brain. Despite all of the extremely creative and artistic shots throughout this film, this one is truly the most evocative.
Marshall (her only real human contact) has abandoned her – taking her rat with her (and for good reason) and her capacity to create torture videos. With his exit Kiya cannot simply go backwards to less incendiary, less violent content so she seeks out the one person whose hatred drove her to take her “art” to more creative and disturbing places in order to create her magnum opus – the actual taking of a human life. Not just any random person, but the reactionary vlogger who has been needling her. Burt challenged her authenticity and in doing so challenged her very existence. It is bittersweet for Kiya as she knows she can never eclipse this moment and cannot continue making videos to put out online. As she sits on the beach, her emptiness at this realization begins to encroach on her as she disappears into her loneliness.
Like Me is available on VoD platforms everywhere and will probably just piss a lot of people off if they watch it, so unless you’re a big weirdo, don’t bother.