CONTROL ** Canada 2022 Dir: James Mark. 90 mins
Another in the growing army of perfect-Covid era movies: a stripped down, one-room (save for beach-based flashbacks), mostly two-character containment piece. Sadly, it’s also yet another entry in the over-crowded cycle of “Sadistic KRYPTON FACTOR” movies spun off from Canada’s CUBE series, in which a small group of characters are at the mercy of a seen-but-not-heard puppet master for reasons that only become clear during the climactic exposition-o-rama plot twist. The SAW franchise has always owed as much to that series as it does to SE7EN, and since then, we’ve seen a plethora of variations of both, including ESCAPE ROOM, PANIC BUTTON, EXAM and one segment of MIDNIGHT PEEPSHOW.
Here, to the recurring refrain of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, Eileen (Sara Mitich) finds herself chained to a chair in a sparsely furnished, ominously paneled room overseen by the mysterious “Administrator” (Karen LeBlanc), a control voice demanding she complete a succession of deceptively simple tasks in an allotted time frame. If she doesn’t, her daughter Eve (Evie Loiselle) will die. There’s something under her scalp and her food is some wobbly green goop served on a silver tray; while the need for Eileen to use her apparently telekinetic powers to complete said tasks (moving a pencil, putting a ball into a bucket) suggest some kind of shady organisation striving to harness those paranormal abilities.
Co-writer / director James Mark recruits the star of his thematically not dissimilar ENHANCED (2019), George Tchortov, to play Roger, Eileen’s estranged, alcoholic husband – though, sadly, he shows up to say a bunch of cliched, stupid things like “There’s got to be a rational explanation for all this!” and, inevitably, “There’s something really fucking weird going on here!”. Their fraught relationship, clumsily conveyed in terse dialogue exchanges, brings a heavy handed double meaning to the film’s title – and sadly helps kill any tension it had built up to that point.
Mitich is solid in the increasingly defiant lead role and it’s efficiently made, but, at this stage, the premise feels like old hat – and we’re reminded that CUBE itself owed a major debt to much older works, including episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. CONTROL will soon blur with all the recent movies with identical set-ups in your mind – and the finale, with Eileen going full Sissy Spacek, prompts inadvertent guffaws rather than spectacle and suspense.
Review by Steven West
CONTROL is out now on Digital Platforms