Control (2022)

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Control opens on a beach. “Life is but a dream,” sings little Eve (Evie Loiselle), playing in the sand – and the bright light and narrow, slightly woozy focus seem to validate her words. As Eileen (Sara Mitich) watches her daughter in this hyperreal space, the idyll is repeatedly shattered by jarring cutaways to violent combat between heavily armed soldiers and an unarmed but oddly empowered woman – apparently also Eileen – in a starkly blue-lit brutalist warehouse. As the viewer tries to decipher these two heavily contrasted scenarios, both surreal in their different ways, Eileen wakes up alone in a strange cell, while a female voice (Karen LeBlanc) from a ceiling speaker gives her instructions to perform tasks, at first simple and soon physically impossible, within a tight timeframe, or else Eve will be killed. Here, as someone manipulates and messes with Eileen to draw out a dark, dangerous aspect of her that has been repressed and forgotten, Eileen is a rat in a cage – and a cage whose odd geometries and colour-coded lighting recall the similar cells in Vincenzo Natali’s Cube (1997) or Panos CosmatosBeyond The Black Rainbow (2010).

  Control puts us in the mindset of its amnesiac protagonist – disoriented, with little memory of the past (the backstory) or idea of how she came to be in this modernist hellhole – which is to say that the film is, among other things, overtly psychological. For this is a locked-room mystery with a carefully graduated process of discovery, where it becomes clear that Eileen’s recollection of who she is and of what she is capable will be key to any way out of her current, constantly harrowing stasis. Like the female protagonist of director James Mark’s previous film Enhanced (2019), similarly co-written with Matthew Nayman, Eileen certainly comes with immense psychokinetic powers which she must rediscover if she is ever to break free of these endless tests – but the closer she gets to completing the three phases of her assigned tasks, and the more she comes to realise all over again how very angry her alcoholic husband Roger (George Tchortov), now locked in the cell with her, can make her feel, the more she wants to escape not via whatever hidden door this room must have, but by retreating back to her memory of Eve on that Edenic beach, before everything went wrong. For that impressionistic and somewhat idealised recollection is what both sustains Eileen, and also has left her so emotionally arrested and immobilised. 

A beach is a liminal, literally littoral space, a crucible of transformation where waves wash and ground ever shifts, as sea and land perpetually alter each other. In Control, the beach is the primal scene, an unstable locus of comfort and anguish. For as in Joel Coen’s Barton Fink (1991), Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem (2013), Eddie Alcazar’s Perfect (2018), Héctor Valdez’s Peaches (Melecotones, 2017) and Navin Dev’s Zoo-Head (2019), here the beach becomes an artificial, nostalgic zone of memory, where hope and joy are built like castles in the sand to keep reality’s recurring waves at bay. While Roger may keep insisting, “There’s got to be a rational explanation for this,” Eileen just wants to be back with her daughter, singing Row Row Row Your Boat on a perfect sunny day. If you are looking for straight sci-fi, there is perhaps a ‘rational explanation’ of sorts to be reconstructed here, involving the military industrial complex and a covert psionics programme – but a more intuitive, satisfying interpretation might regard both Eileen’s entrapment and her empowerment as two conflicting metaphors for the guilt and grief from which she ever struggles to emerge while caught, and constantly triggered, within trauma’s loop. Here life is both a dream and a beach – and sometimes a mother’s love can make waking up and moving on to more solid land seem an altogether less desirable option.

summary: James Marks’ psychological SF/beach movie sees an entrapped mother weighing past pain against the future empowerment of oblivion. 

Anton Bitel