It feels unfair to call King Kelly a found-footage movie—its title character, who frequently turns the camera on herself and preens in its gaze like it’s a mirror, has every intention of making everything she shoots publicly available online. A webcam girl fixated on the upcoming launch of her own site, Kelly (Louisa Krause) is the tireless star and most frequent DP of her own life-as-movie. She’s narcissistic, manipulative, and hooked on the immediate gratification of adoration from the fans who log on to get off on her streaming shows. Directed by Andrew Neel (Darkon), King Kelly is a broad indictment of the emptier side of self-documentation and a more nuanced one of the Internet as a source of affirmation. Its heroine looks to her fans for reinforcement about her desirability, her behavior, and the stardom she’s sure is coming for her, creating a narrow world in which she only needs to deal with people who adore her.
King Kelly was shot on iPhones and consumer-grade cameras standing in for iPhones, but that’s less horrifying than it sounds. Like Paranormal Activity 4, it makes use of framing that technology has made into common visual language; when Krause holds her camera up at arm’s length and offers a duck face, she’s recreating a shot used by thousands of other people catering to an exaggerated, web-driven idea of what it means to be sexy. And in spite of her convictions to the contrary, there’s nothing notable about her except her embrace of her own awfulness. She acts like a starlet on a binge, not the would-be proprietor of her own porn business—she gets furious when someone deems her a slut, but blithely confesses to dating someone only because he’s helping her code her website.
Taking place on July 4, King Kelly involves a stash of drugs that are essentially a McGuffin, and a night of partying, sex, and violence that spirals into something dark and dreadful, though Krause makes a chipper attempt to frame everything as a wacky adventure. And while the outsized obliviousness of the film’s protagonist can get grating and hard to believe, the side characters drawn into her orbit balance out her relentless self-absorption. Roderick Hill plays a state trooper who’s Krause’s biggest fan, and whose fixation quickly reveals a frightening side, while Libby Woodbridge is a tragic standout as Krause’s much-abused peon of a best friend and the only figure in her real life who buys into her persona as a celebrity in the making.