Every few months I check out the indie film scene to see what I may have missed by living in a city with few opportunities to watch arthouse cinema (my apologies to Cinematheque, which tries hard but can only do so much). I look for hidden gems, festival films that remain obscure and may get mixed reviews but might still be magical to me. That’s how I found the films of Shane Carruth, which weren’t quite magical for me but which I enjoyed very much. And that’s how I found yet another obscure sci-fi film with a writer/director (Benjamin Dickinson) who also plays the lead role. Despite being generally panned by critics and viewers alike, Creative Control (released just this spring) was, for all its flaws, one of those magical gems I look for.
Dickinson plays David, an advertising exec who is tasked with coming up with an ad for Augmenta, a pair of augmented-reality glassed that allow the wearer to see information and interact with images in ways that sci-fi writers and sci-fi films have been hinting at for decades. While the concept isn’t original, Creative Control feels so immediate, as if all of its technology is just around the corner (if it doesn’t exist already), that I could imagine just such a story happening in the very near future. So even though David’s character is not fully realized and is not particularly sympathetic (this is definitely an “all-men-are-jerks” kind of film), I found myself fully engaged in this haunting tale of a depressed pill-popping man who is falling in love with his best friend’s girlfriend (Sophie, played by Alexia Rasmussen) and discovers a new use for the Augmenta glasses.
David’s own girlfriend, Juliette (Nora Zehetner), a yoga instructor, knows something is wrong with their relationship and finds her own unique way of coping. As for Wim (Dan Gill), David’s best friend, well, he’s having an affair with one of his models (he’s a photographer), making it all the easier for David to fantasize about Sophie, who is the film’s only sympathetic character.
The lack of sympathetic characters in Creative Control is okay in a sci-fi film like this because this is a quirky cautionary tale that feels very real and is told in a very compelling way. What makes it so compelling? First, there’s the extraordinary 2.35:1 black and white cinematography - a perfect choice for this film and it’s perfectly shot. Second, there’s the perfect choice of music, mostly classical, for every scene. The perfection, style and use of the cinematography and music remind me very much of Stanley Kubrick, my favourite director. Watching and enjoying Creative Control the way I would watch and enjoy a Kubrick film made it possible to overlook the lack of sympathetic characters, the occasionally uneven acting and the many flaws in the plot (and the resemblances to the better film, Her). But the primary reason I find the film so compelling (and can overlook its flaws) is because of the way it offers insightful commentary (often with dark humour) on our drug-filled, work-obsessed, smartphone/Facebook culture and on the very real dangers presented by our technological advances, especially as we move into an era of virtual reality.
As a result, I am giving Creative Control ****. My mug is up, but be warned that this film is rated 18A and contains almost no violence.