Here’s an intriguing spin on the whole “found footage” mockumentary genre, a thriller built around a documentary filmmaker’s misadventures with online “cam girls.”
As depicted in “Use Me,” these are dominatrixes who make money off humbling, using and humiliating men with very particular sexual peccadilloes.
Actor and sometime documentary-filmmaker Julian Shaw plays himself, an Aussie obsessive who films “everything” — whose next subject is to be the porn performers/sex workers of America’s online sex trade. He will immerse himself in this world and get close to the queen bee of this universe, porn actress and “cam girl” Ceara Lynch.
Lynch, in the film and in real life, bills herself as a “humiliatrix,” a nubile young woman who play-acts and interacts with male clients via video. In various states of undress, she fulfills assorted unconventional fantasies, be they tongue-sucking or cuckolding, being bossed around and insulted –each and every one billed extravagantly for the privilege.
She’s been written up on Salon.com, bills herself as having a psychology degree and insists she’s “helping” these men by showing off her thongs and cleavage, teasing and taunting them to fulfillment with come-ons in her distinctly coquettish vocal fry.
“People pay her vast sums of money, basically for the privilege of being used,” Shaw explains to an interviewer. It’s an online shortcut for those who don’t have the time to court, marry, buy a woman a house and get used the old fashioned way, in other words.
He flies to Portland, Oregon (of course) to meet her, to “find the truth behind me” for this woman who purrs, “The Internet is my dungeon.”
Shaw’s film purports to show 71 days of his immersion in this world, leaving behind his ex girlfriend, whose break-up with him he taped (pausing camera so that she could video his reaction, too), kickstarter funding the film when he and Ceara burn through his cash too quickly, and generally crossing all sorts of moral and documentary-ethical lines as they do.
Shaw rather clumsily sees this as an “American Dream” story — hers, getting rich by providing a service no one else can provide as well as her, using her sexuality to entice “clients” (interviewed in masks or shadows) to give her money and baubles for her sexual attention.
She sells her used panties and excrement to the more monied of her weirdo clientele, which her lawyer says makes her “a genius of capitalism.”
And “everything’s virtual,” she insists. She “never meets a client in person,” which is why her dad, interviewed on camera, is OK with it.
Assorted randoms of the “vox populi” persuasion are interviewed about what “The American Dream” represents, and an Australian therapist differentiates between Ceara’s clients fetishes,”paraphilia,” and sexual or behavioral addictions.
“These are all male desires, they aren’t my desires,” Ceara adds.
Trotting out her psychological bonafides (sort of), the “humiliatrix” gives us her guidelines. No full nudity, no sexual intercourse on camera and no “in person” sessions. Those are Ceara Lynch’s rules.
Julian Shaw’s “rules” as a filmmaker are to “never cut,” never let his camera operator shut down. Ignore everybody who says “You’re not recording this” and “Please stop recording.”
These two, the film implies, were made for each other — at least in that compulsive/”services” compulsives way. And as Julian tumbles into her world, burning through cash, having hot tub romps and lewd limo lust-offs, we watch the narcissist moviemaker indulged by Ceara and her friends in “the biz,” all of them very pretty people rolling around doing what comes naturally, in assorted payment plans.
Her “whole brand is that I’m unattainable,” but we’ll see about that. The entry-button on her Cearalynch.com website is “Use Me” but we’ll have to figure out who is using whom here.
Because that’s the game “Use Me” plays. The leads use their real names, but not much of what we see is real — actress playing a girlfriend, actor playing a shrink, etc.
Where “Use Me” goes off the rails is in the contrivances Shaw pieces together out of “Thrillers for Dummies” to set up the third act melodrama that takes over the film.
The mockumentary stuff, with Ceara purring on camera “If you didn’t have money, I wouldn’t even spit in your general direction…Do you want to be my dog?” to clients, the costumes, contortions, writhing and lip-licking exhibitionism of her sex trade “acting” on camera? That’s fascinating.
So is the accounting part of her business — billing clients while she leaves them on hold, “my ignore line,” $5 a minute.
The “actress” Ceara comes off as confident, with the right setting, revealing wardrobe and makeup taking her from pretty to “bombshell.”
Shaw ably plays the eager obsessive, always taping, often lying, keeping his distance but plainly into being around Ceara and her leading competitor and protege, “Princess Cassie” (Jazlyn Yoder of “Chicago P.D.” and “Chicago Justice.”).
And by “being around” I mean naked in a bed, a tub, wherever with these compliant “professionals.”
Hearing Ceara’s stories, seeing where and how she grew up, compels Julian to “open up” himself — about sexual experiences, his mania for filming his entire life and the like.
That interaction, with the sobering transgressions of inventing your own ethical lines in this ever-evolving situation, with the documentary-real treatment of the business, was a pretty good movie.
But Shaw had to muck it up with a corny, under-developed and over-explained riff on “The Grifter” that doesn’t surprise, inform, delight or appall in the later acts.
This was never going to become “a thriller.” Its first, best destiny was to find its way as a pair of character studies, with mystery and intrigues dropped in along the way.
“Use Me” is a mockumentary that works only as long as its still mocking.
MPAA Rating: unrated, adult sexual subject matter
Cast: Julian Shaw, Ceara Lynch, Jazlyn Yoder
Credits: Written and directed by Julian Shaw. A Green Light release.
Running Time: 1:30