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SXSW Review: Creative Control

Creative Control takes place in a world of technology just a few year's out from today. Cell phones and computer screens are composed of sheer cuts of opaque glass and flicker with images only visible to their owner. Apps are controlled with the slightest wave of a finger, like a symphony composer directing his orchestra. Wearable tech has reached a fever pitch and though the big names like Apple, Google and Microsoft have name brand recognition working in their favor, a new product called Augmenta is the definitive future of how humans will interact with their technology.

While Google Glass allows you to snap photos and ping you schedule reminders, Aumenta purports to be the first convincing device that can "alter reality". When a media man is handed the keys to a product sample to help run its ad campaign, he inadvertently discovers that he can use the device to fulfill his deepest, darkest desires, to the chagrin of those closest to him, and his own sanity.


That media man is David (Benjamin Dickinson, also the director and co-writer) and he's a regular Don Draper, were Draper to slug bone-white pills etched with mathematical symbols and drink until he puked on interested parties at some bass-pounding club. On the outside, Davis is composed - and the expert maintenance on his beard is wholly enviable - but he's an unserviceable mess on the inside, evidence by his obvious substance addiction and his hot-and-cold temperament towards yoga-instructor girlfriend Juliette (Nora Zehetner). Though the high pressure of spearheading his first big gig at his firm helps to intensify David's disconnect with Juliette, the real issue lies in David's mounting crush on Sophie (Alexia Rasmussen), girlfriend to his own best friend Wim - a vain, philandering fashion photographer played to douchey perfection by Dan Gill.

As the Aumenta campaign ramps up, David finds himself increasingly out of touch with those around him and progressively desperate to win the affection of Sophie. When she rejects his advances, David seeks alternative avenues to connect, employing Aumenta's wholly alarming Avatar creation app to recreate her, and to use her as he deems fit.


While Creative Control comes wrapped up as a kind of warning sign to the dangers of technology - it's discernibly akin to the Domhnall Gleeson episode of Black Mirror as well as "The Entire History of You" - it manages to mine a fair share of delightfully wry, warped humor - a stand-out example features the constant re-tweaking of a commercial shoot for smokable anxiety medication.

Filmed in crisp black-and-white and smash-cut with barbed editing from Megan Brooks and Andrew Hasse, Creative Control is kept lively and truly zipping between scenes. That Dickinson is able to strike a chord of technological isolation that feels distinctly different from other films that came before his - while also subtly reminding us of Her and Upstream Color - is an accomplished feat and one that is at least born from his distinctive aesthetic choices.


Even operating on an independent film budget, Creative Control never feels the restraints of not having enough time or money. Rather than look like some kind of cheapening effect, the stark contrast that the black-and-white palette provides - and the almost entirely absent use of color - makes the visual flourishes of the film pop even more. A rare dollop of tech baby blue or the soft, human pinkness of e-Sophie stand out like Schindler's red coat without being as gaudy. Independent film or otherwise, it's a visual beaut. 

Beyond their aesthetic shine, any great sci-fi speaks not to the future but to the current zeitgeist and Creative Control is no exception. In it is a harrowing projection of human isolation and the burden of "unplugging". To do so - Creative Control suggests - might just be as necessary as it is impossible. With an ability to make us laugh the whole way through and then force us to think at the very end, Dickinson shows an impressive command of his material and his audience. Not one to disappoint on his film's namesake, Dickinson exerts towering economic creative control over a project that is both entirely creative and completely controlling of our concentration. Bravo.


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