One of the cornerstones of science fiction has always been the depiction of a technology-dominated future, but in the last few years, that future has seemed closer and closer, and many of the genre’s recent standout films have delved into the way those technological advances are warping the way people interact. Benjamin Dickinson’s Creative Control proudly continues that tradition, but despite a striking visual style and heaps of ambition, it struggles to say anything that other, better films haven’t covered far more effectively.
Creative Control’s vision of the future is built around Augmenta, a line of glasses that allows wearers to “augment” their reality. Dickinson, in addition to writing and directing, stars as David, an ambitious ad executive who’s tasked with coming up with an advertisement for Augmenta. He teams up with an offbeat artist (Reggie Watts, playing a hilariously exaggerated version of himself) for the ad, but when he starts playing with the glasses on his own time, he ends up creating a facsimile of Sophie (Alexia Rusmussen), his best friend’s girlfriend, and becomes obsessed with her.
The film’s future is also bleak and colorless – literally, as it’s filmed in shadowy, impressive black and white. Taking place in a post-modern millennial Brooklyn where characters discuss how they’re living in a movie, the film’s sense of humor is amusingly dry. Unfortunately, the script is stuffed to the gills with half-baked thematic ambition. For example, Juliette (Nora Zehetner), David’s yoga instructor girlfriend, yearns to live on top of a mountain after quitting her job, and the film jumps to contrast David’s results-driven work with Juliette’s spiritually inclined yoga, while also trying to explore relationships, sex, and art, and the way technology is changing all of those things. However, it falls short of saying anything particularly original about any of its many topics, and one can’t help but wish it could stick to a thematic thread.
Where the script (co-written by Dickinson and Micah Bloomberg) really stumbles is in its attempts to tie David’s overwhelming misery to his increasing reliance on Augmenta, when the reality is that most of the film’s characters are plenty miserable and detestable on their own. David is an unrepentant jerk and a drunk who lusts after his best friend’s girlfriend, who doesn’t exactly shy away from his advances because said best friend (played with sharp comedic timing by Dan Gill) has plenty of his own extracurricular exploits. As both actor and director, Dickinson plays an interesting game with character sympathy, and even as David’s downward spiral reaches its apex, it’s always interesting to watch.
This is in large part thanks to Dickinson’s remarkable directorial style, which is unquestionably the best thing Creative Control has going for it; the film’s black and white visual palette is stunningly utilized by cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra. Dickinson has a long background in commercials and music videos, and he brings an effortlessly sleek, visually inventive sheen to the film’s New York setting. His only stumble is a conspicuous nod to obvious influence Stanley Kubrick as the film enters its home stretch, but even this is a comically audacious move, exactly the kind of thing a rookie feature director like Dickinson should get out of his system in an early work.
Even with the problems of its wily, undisciplined script, Creative Control is a compelling, visually magnetic watch from a promising new cinematic voice. It’s also a welcome reminder of what a tremendous actress Nora Zehetner is, bringing an unwavering passion to Juliette, David’s long-suffering girlfriend, and a generally strong showcase for all of the actors involved. The film may not chart new territory for the sci-fi genre, but it’s a strong demonstration of voice and establishes Dickinson as a major visual talent whose writing could use some reining in, which is more than enough reason to recommend it.
Creative Control is now playing in limited release.