Seen at the Sydney Underground Film Festival
Go see this movie. Find it, see it, thank me when you’re done. Normally I would try and give some elaborate bit of information here that would set things up or maybe even explore how I found the film but here? No, go see this movie wherever it is. Do you have to climb a mountain to see it? Get your Sherpa, start climbing. Do you need to walk on hot coals? Burn your feet, it’s worth it. Do you have to sell your firstborn? You can have another one, kids are cheap now so throw Timmy in the ticket booth and go see this film. I don’t want you to look up details or anything like that, just trust me… or keep reading this and then go see it, but go see this goddamn movie.
Use Me starts as just your average documentary where a young filmmaker named Julian Shaw discovers an online humiliatrix named Ceara Lynch and decides to make a film about her life and her work. It starts simply by getting to know her, see what she does, maybe talk to a few men who pay Ceara for the privilege of being mocked and humiliated by someone online (because no one has told them about Twitter where people will do that for free) and everything seems to be going smoothly… until it doesn’t. Soon this simple little documentary turns sinister as Julian stumbles upon some elements of Ceara’s work that make him question the morality of it, followed by something happening to Ceara that makes him worry for her safety. Soon the film descends into a chaotic ride, not only swerving from scene to scene but doing a burnout over the very concept of what reality is. By the time the film ends, it’s almost impossible to tell where the fantasy of the film ends and the reality of the documentary begins and you will walk out thankful, and a little humiliated that the film tricked you so brilliantly.
When a film plays with the genre it can be a beautiful thing, but Use Me isn’t just playing with its genre. Use Me straps on a giant dildo and pegs its genre roughly because it can get away with it. Good luck figuring out what parts are true and what parts are just a joyous thrill ride because everything is blended so brilliantly. It’s a very different kind of documentary, I’m not even willing to call it mockumentary because that implies that everything we’re seeing is a complete lie. It’s not, this film started as a regular documentary. Julian Shaw is an actual filmmaker, Ceara Lynch is an actual humiliatrix who engages in financial domination (she actually had a workshop about it at the Sydney Underground Film Festival and I almost skipped the next film to attend it). The backstory about Julian filming everything, including a breakup, feels real because a lot of it is. A lot of the setup stuff, the parts where we get to know both our main characters all comes from a real place… and then everyone realized that they were being too normal and decided to run headfirst into batshit insanity and I love them all for doing it.
Once the film starts shifting into a full-on thriller, it doesn’t let go for a second. They create this feeling of genuine dread like we shouldn’t be watching as everything goes from extreme to extreme. You want to yell to the guy holding the camera to put it down but we know he never will because Julian’s addiction to filming everything is so well established by this point that we know the camera is going to be rolling, no matter what the hell it finds. We’re almost taking part in his addiction, witnessing how he’s being controlled and at times humiliated. What we’re seeing is a version of just what Ceara’s work can do, but pumped up on steroids so an audience can catch the subtleties of how this kind of work can actually help people. Sure, the idea of having someone dominate you might not sound helpful to normies, but this context gives us someone with problems they can’t address and puts them through an extreme version of what people pay for to deal with their problems.
What’s most impressive to me are the two leads who never acknowledge how fake everything is. The lines are blurred between reality and the thrill ride and everyone plays it like this is really happening. It’s incredible, after a while I stopped questioning what was real and what wasn’t because it was all so engaging. Julian Shaw is a filmmaker to watch because if this is what he does for a first feature film, what’s the second one? I’m in awe of this movie and just can’t wait to see what he does. As for Ceara? One of the best performances of the year, hands down. She has to be more open and exposed than anyone else, make the audience willing to trust her one minute and then question her motives the next. She is obscenely charismatic and so charming that I just want to see her in so many more movies. The two of them together? Oh my god, off the charts chemistry that shows every time they share a scene.
In case I haven’t made it clear enough yet, I absolutely love this movie. It’s engaging, brilliant and different to anything I’ve ever seen. It’s the kind of film that people invent category names for because there’s just nothing quite like it, and I don’t think it’s something you could intentionally create. This is pure lightning in a bottle brought on by a touch of insanity and a lot of creativity. The fact this film even exists stuns me. Find it, see it, enjoy it. That’s an order.