Online media provides no cure for disaffection in “Like Me,” a formally eclectic journey into the dark heart of a twentysomething girl who uploads videos of her criminal activity. Debut filmmaker Robert Mockler uses this premise for an impressionistic portrait of modern estrangement, using all manner of stylistic devices to capture his protagonist’s tumultuous psyche. The film’s lack of a traditional narrative will no doubt alienate many, but for the more adventurous, it offers a uniquely weird take on loneliness and lunacy.
That unconventionality isn’t immediately apparent, as the action opens with a masked girl in a hoodie arriving at a drive-through convenience store. Barging inside, she uses her cell phone to record the increasingly agitated employee (Jeremy Gardner) — then pulls a gun on him, causing him to wet himself. Escaping in her car, the assailant, Kiya (Addison Timlin), returns home. And then, out of nowhere, the action bursts into a bewildering spasm of montage: Kiya’s head shaking blearily; her mouth chewing candy and pizza; a hand on a TV broadcasting static; spinning shots around her as she does push-ups on the floor. The shots freeze, stutter and meld together to Giona Ostinelli’s fuzzy, thudding, looping electro-classical soundtrack of feedback noise.
After this audio-video assault, replete with a garishly overblown color palette courtesy of cinematographer James Siewert, Kiya checks the number of hits on what now appears to have been her prankish attempt to make a viral video — and the comments and user response vids that have greeted its debut. Her initial euphoria turns to misery due to a scathing review from a guy named Burt (Ian Nelson), who profanely lambastes her as a “nobody” who should “do us all a favor and slit your wrists.” The rejection hits Kiya hard, and sends her back out onto the streets, where she picks up a scraggly homeless man and takes him out for a feast at a nearby diner. Alas, upon returning from the bathroom (where she stares at herself in the mirror, pulling at her eye as if to see what’s beneath her skin), she discovers that even this stranger has abandoned her.
Not ready to give up on her quest to forge some kind of relationship with someone, Kiya checks into a motel where she faux-seduces the manager, Marshall (Larry Fessenden), then ties him up for a bit of unappetizing sadomasochism that creates another million-hit YouTube sensation. Their ensuing, deviant-Stockholm Syndrome-ish dynamic is dramatized with little exposition, but many more collage-like aesthetic seizures. Campfires transform into stacks of televisions, glowing eels swim out of gunshot wounds as cars navigate trippy bubble landscapes and swirling-sky vortexes (painted on ceilings and spied in reality) hover overhead — all images that speak to Kiya’s crushing dislocation and isolation.
The avant-garde barrage grows wearisome, but Mocker’s film remains, throughout, laser-focused on his subject’s schizoid condition, which is exacerbated, rather than alleviated, by contemporary technology. Moreover, alongside Fessenden’s typically scraggly-yet-assured turn, the performance of Timlin (2016’s “Little Sister”) brings some equilibrium to the topsy-turvy proceedings, potently conveying the ways in which Kiya employs various guises — tough stick-up woman, generous altruist, nubile temptress, avenging angel — to mask her little-girl hurt and longing for compassion and validation.