Benjamin Dickinson’s Creative Control is a movie about how we live now. Actually, about two years from now. Shot in sharp black-and-white and set in the beards-and-pickle-brine millennial hipster enclave of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the film, which made its debut at South by Southwest last year, feels like a Noah Baumbach movie projected through the Oculus Rift. Dickinson wants to examine the way that cutting-edge technology is changing and accelerating our day-to-day lives — and what the cost of that change and acceleration might be. Granted, it isn’t exactly the first film (or book or TV show) to suggest that the glitzy devices and ubiquitous smartphones that connect us are also alienating us, but it does so with a fresh sci-fi spin.
Dickinson stars as David, a young advertising exec whose too-cool firm takes on a hot new client dripping with start-up money – the makers of virtual-reality eyewear that make Google Glass look as archaic as the horse and buggy. The company is called Augmenta, and what its specs do is never totally spelled out, but the basic gist is that the wearer can shape his or her own version of what they see. For example, after the workaholic David is tapped by his rat-a-tat-patter boss (Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes) to spearhead the Augmenta account, he gives the glasses a test-drive. He’s able to capture moments he sees through his lenses, tweak them into holograms, and play them back in a lifelike simulacrum. The glasses are controlled by subtle clicks and taps of his fingers in the air and, using them, he looks like he’s conducting a stealth symphony only he can hear. In a way, he is.
As we’ve learned from both the VCR and the internet (to name just two late-20th century innovations), human beings can dream up all sorts of new and improved modes of technology. But the Killer App that tends to make them catch on (at least initially) is…sex. So David uses his new glasses to create a mirage affair with his model-chasing best friend’s girlfriend, Sophie (Alexia Rasmussen). Bringing his desires to life, he’s cheating on his yoga-instructor live-in girlfriend, Juliette (Nora Zehetner) without technically cheating. He becomes obsessed with Sophie’s avatar, programming her to convey the feelings she won’t reciprocate in real life. He gets sucked down a rabbit hole of fantasy, ego, drugs, alienation, and anxiety—until he starts to lose it.
In one the most harrowing scenes in the film, David sits in his sleek, buzzing hive of an office and simultaneously has a face-to-face conversation with coworkers, texts via his smart glasses, and juggles a barrage of frantic incoming text messages only he can see. Racing to keep up with the information overload, both he and the audience gets the swirling sensation of being a circuit that’s about to blow. It’s not a particularly tricky effect, but it’s terrifying vision of the not-so-distant future – a time that seems closer and closer and more and more overwhelming every day. Creative Control is a much more modest film (both visually and thematically) than something like Her or Ex Machina, but it never feels hamstrung by its limitations. If you go with its future-shock flow, it will cast a spell that feels like something between a dream and a nightmare. B+