How to Catch a Bully: New Film Explores Both Sides of High School Harassment
High school is not easy. Between the academic pressure and the raging hormones, it's not always an idyllic four years.
But when a student becomes the victim of daily bullying, especially at the hands of a former friend, life can suddenly become unbearable.
That's the premise for the upcoming film A Girl Like Her , a fictional story that utilizes the same found footage style of filmmaking made famous by movies like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity – proving that being stuck in high school with a mean girl can be its own kind of horror story.
In the film, 16-year-old Jessica Burns (Lexi Ainsworth) is physically and mentally tormented by her former friend, and the most popular girl in school, Avery Keller (Hunter King). In an effort to expose Keller's abusive behavior, Burns uses hidden cameras and records online conversations to expose her tormentor's ugly side to the rest of the school.
Although the film is a work of fiction, its premise is an everyday reality for many kids – and something the director, Amy Weber, went through when she was a child.
"When I was just 6 years old, someone I thought was my friend bullied me physically," Weber tells PEOPLE. "It started off just like any other friendship, but once I started spending time at his house, things drastically changed."
Weber's former childhood friend began using physical violence to get his way, like locking her in his "trundle bed and in closets" if she "didn't do what he demanded."
Initially, Weber says she stayed silent about the abuse, until "one day he threw me into the cement face-first, damaging my two front teeth." After the incident, the director came clean to her parents, and no longer associated herself with her former tormentor.
"At 6 years old, I declared that I would never allow someone to hurt me again," Weber says.
Unfortunately, like many former victims of bullying, Weber admits to echoing the behavior of her abuser later in life.
Less than a year after breaking off contact with her ex-bully, Weber says she met a new young boy and the two became fast friends.
"This time though, I was in charge and I liked how that felt," Weber says. "I myself became a young bully, controlling others and threatening them if they did not do what I expected."
According to StopBullying.gov – a website that provides information and tools for victims of bullying – it's not uncommon for "those who are bullied sometimes bully others." And with "between one in four and one in three U.S. students" claiming to have been bullied at school, a cycle of abuse can become prevalent.
Weber's experiences left her feeling isolated and angry throughout her teenage years, but she adds that, "the healing process continues today for me, this film being one of my greatest healers."
A Girl Like Her hits theaters March 27.
BY MICHAEL MILLER