Review: 'Creative Control' Starring Benjamin Dickinson, Nora Zehetner, And Reggie Watts

Cautionary movies about the supposed dangers of technology unravelling our social fabric all seem to stumble over the same issue: the problems they raise have little to do with technology itself, but everything to do with terrible, shallow people living terrible, shallow lives.  Although it's a lot prettier than other recent attempts, Creative Control follows in the same footsteps that Men, Women & Children and Disconnect laid down before it on the path to irrelevance.

To be sure, David (co-writer and director Benjamin Dickinson) uses Augmenta -- a souped-up version of Google Glass -- as the instrument of his downfall, but it has nothing to do with why he's falling.  He's getting drunk and high, living on pills, and not communicating with his yoga instructor girlfriend Juliette (Nora Zehetner), and their relationship is in bad shape before he even gets the assignment to develop their ad campaign.

Reinforcing the fact that this has nothing to do with technology, his best friend and enabler, Wim (Dan Gill), is also terrible human being and he barely even puts the glasses on.  David recognizes that Wim is cheating on Sophie (Alexia Rasmussen), and develops his own crush on her, all before the technology comes into play.  Even if Augmenta wasn't part of this movie, David would still ignore Juliette's needs and lead himself up to making an awkward pass at Sophie and burning bridges with Wim.  It would happen whether they're twenty minutes into the future of 2016, in 1960, or 1600.  Terrible people living their terrible lives will make terrible decisions and do terrible things, and they'll use whatever level of technology is currently at hand to do it.

Creative Control is a tad less preachy than other stories that try to get at this particular bit of luddite moralism.  In part, it comes from not directly calling out actual current products, but it also doesn't use every single line to hammer home the evils of technology.  As I said, Wim is terrible without even using Augmenta itself, though he does like using his phone to document and brag about his sexual exploits.  I'd wonder if this wasn't even Dickinson's intended point, except if he's just telling a story about terrible people being terrible then why introduce the conceit of Augmenta to reify David's adulterous imagination?

On the flip side, there's Reggie Watts, playing himself.  In a strategy as pretentious as the movie itself, David suggests they "change the conversation" away from the consumer culture of Augmenta's market-dominating but technologically-inferior competitor.  By giving a pair to an artist like Watts they can see what he comes up with and build a campaign around that.  It's never clear what David expects to happen, but the result is predictably bizarre and unsuitable for an ad campaign.

But Watts' efforts do contain the seeds of a far more interesting idea than Dickinson bothers exploring, bringing his audience face-to-face with the uglier downsides of late-stage capitalism.  It doesn't make for great marketing copy, but if there is any harm to be found, it's in the growing schism between the technology haves and have-nots.  Unfortunately, this goes largely unexplored.  It's so different from the rest of the movie it hangs off of like an appendix, I wouldn't be surprised if Dickinson really did farm it out to Watts -- a talented artist who integrates technology into his work in new and surprising ways -- and then didn't pay much attention to what he got back beyond jamming it into the story.

For all its flaws, Creative Control is a very pretty movie to look at, all clean, modernist lines and Futura-istic interfaces superimposed on the frame.
Adam Newport-Berra's digital black-and-white cinematography with David's imaginary Sophie popping out in color shows off the possibilities of modern post-production techniques.  The rendered interfaces courtesy of Parisian VFX studio Mathematic may be the most gorgeously designed ones I've seen; I'd love to see a version of my phone's UI that looks as good as theirs does.  But again, all this does is remind us how beautiful and useful technology can be, even as the script seems to warn us away.

Rating: 2 out of 5