InControl (2017)

InControl first published by SciFiNow

The first time we see Samantha (Anja Savcic) in writer/director Kurtis David Harder’s InControl, she is facing a mirror. This follows a prologue in which pretty cheerleader Marissa (Sarah Troyer) tries desperately – and vainly – to phone Mark and Jenny, before, in her distraction, flipping her car spectacularly. The connection between these two sequences will take its time to emerge, but for now, we are following Samantha as she takes a long hard look at herself, and is dissatisfied with what she sees. Samantha, like everybody, comes with flaws and imperfections. She has a severe peanut allergy, which means, as is pointed out by a customer in the the cafe where she works, that she is “missing out.” She has to care for a single mother (Valerie Planche) who barely ever gets off the sofa to look after herself. And despite all the research that she has put into an essay on the significance of Jeremy Bentham’s ‘panopticon’ prison, she has received only a C from her sociology professor.

At this moment of discontentment for Samantha, she is invited by Mark (Levi Meaden) to join him and his friends Jenny (Shayla Stonechild) and Victor (Rory J. Saper) in the use of an experimental device, lifted from the university, which enables users to inhabit someone else’s body with their own minds. Though hesitant at first, Samantha is soon as addicted to this vicarious existence as her mother is to television, and starts spending most of her time plugged into the box-like machine in a state of near-permanent escapist alterity – even as all this partying with, and as, other people starts taking its toll on her own life. When she finds her love for Mark unrequited, she begins experimenting with being Mark’s girlfriend Marissa, who she discovers has not only Mark, but also an impeccable body, loving parents (two of them!), and an enviable lifestyle.

To keep its ideas hooked up to the thrills of genre narrative, InControl wraps itself in the bare bones of an increasingly paranoid SF conspiracy, with a crime so perfect that we are left wondering who, in this virtual panopticon, might be watching the watchmen and pulling the strings. When one character declares there is “no chance of them putting the pieces together”, ‘them’ might refer as much to viewers as to the investigating authorities. Yet at its heart, InControl is the story of a young woman’s longing to be someone else, and her slow discovery of self – and as such, it dramatises the adolescent drive to try out new things, no matter how addictive or destructive they might prove. It is also, of course, an allegory of the digital lives that we are all now living, staring into the reflective surfaces of our computer, reinventing ourselves as online anonyms, impersonations and avatars, and unable to shed the suspicion that we may just be powerless puppets in a system where control is illusory. Ambiguous and elliptical, InControl is a speculative poem wherein postmodern identity becomes its own special form of prison.

Strap: A young woman plugs into a device that allows her to become somebody else.

© Anton Bitel