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It’s quite easy to condemn teenagers when they publish a series of transgressive videos on Youtube just to get clicks. But sometimes, video clips go viral without an attention-seeking motive. The 2017 film Like Me juggles the relationship between this un-beseeching fame and its spiraling negative effects. It also entertains the idea of how reality becomes a replica of cyberspace, where an individual’s online persona gathers so much heat that he or she has to carry on the performance in real life. At the heart of the film is Kiya, a young woman with a pixie haircut, whose wardrobe staples are beanies and hoodies. She wears a fixed facial expression that mixes seasoned cynicism with a precocious composure. While the narrative tracks Kiya’s rising online profile, her sudden stardom eclipses her true intention behind releasing video recording herself committing more and more atrocious criminal acts, from armed robbery (although the gun is fake) to shooting a defenseless man (this time, the bullet is real). Is Kiya looking for something more than 15 minutes of fame, perhaps?

To answer this question, one must discuss Addison Timlin’s near-perfect portrayal of Kiya. Timlin enables the central character to transcend the cliche of a one-dimensional young daredevil. Timlin had her major acting breakout in the 2016 independent drama Little Sister. She plays a young nun who dyes her hair pink and puts on punk makeup to reconnect with her older brother who just returned from the war in Iraq. The indie film caused a sensational wave of good reviews, and garnered a spot on New Yorker film critic Richard Brody’s top ten films of 2016. In Like Me, Timlin continues to invite the audience into her unconventional interior world and challenges us to decipher the reason behind her sinister plot. Her big, dark eyes speak to a curiosity about the performative nature of human interaction and signal a determination to probe beneath the formality of human behavior. When Kiya holds up an iPhone or a video camera and teases her subjects ruthlessly, it resembles a weapon, one that violently forces the truth to come out.

The film follows Kiya’s production process and shows her fans and trolls’ reactions alike. For the audience, who have the advantage of observing the whole chain of events from a behind-the-scenes perspective, we become automatically self-conscious of our state of watching. Therefore, it is inevitable to ask a moral question: by continuing to watch Kiya’s videos, do we become complicit in her crimes through the participation of viewership? For example, in the film’s opening scene, Kiya puts on a sculpted white mask and starts silently recording a drive-thru convenience mart’s cashier with her iPhone camera. Kiya’s calm and reticent broadcasting contradicts the cashier’s uneasy interrogation of Kiya’s purpose. Trying to suppress his discomfort in being objectified by the camera’s confrontational gaze, the man starts acting in a buffoonish manner, randomly throwing straws into the air and shouting “Crazy straws.” The ridiculousness suddenly stops when Kiya pulls out a gun and points it at the man. He begins crying and begging on his knees and finally pees his pants in front of the camera. The miserable sight of a human being deprived of dignity marks the opening scene’s sharp transition from a joke to an intense life-threatening moment. Those varied moods set a pretext for the film’s overall energy. Upon viewing the videos that ridicule societal hypocrisy and feature taboo displays of violence, the film audience feels increasingly powerless and uneasy. There is nothing they can do other than watch passively.

The film’s electrifying visual style—the glowing neon lights on the seaside, the giant palm trees, and the gaudy-colored motel rooms—is a hypnotic attraction of decay. Like Me’s dreamlike color scheme recalls that of Harmony Korine’s 2012 film Spring Breakers, eye-popping pinks and blues always lurking somewhere in the film’s visual backdrop. Like Korine’s crime-infected underbelly of Florida’s sunny paradise, Like Me visualizes L.A.’s night scenes with a menacing impulse, where danger creeps close to the picture-perfect Hollywood of La La Land. Kiya’s navigation between hazy night spaces simulates her audience’s voyeuristic pleasure in navigating through the image, where the violence being shown onscreen does not pose a threat to our reality outside the space of the theater—until it does.