“It’ll be weird when we all have chips in our brains.”
“It won’t seem weird then. It’ll seem inevitable.”
Some of the most effective sci-fi works are the ones that don’t have to reach too far into the future to find something worth saying. The recent indie cheapie Creative Control doesn’t say exactly what year it’s supposed to be set in, but it might as well be next year, maybe even next month. Walking through the CBD in New Orleans every week, I see tons of tiny tech startups clacking away on their Apple computers in the giant, unobscured windows of their rented, cubicle-free workspaces. I usually assume most of these businesses are in the search optimization market or something similarly intangible, but there’s no reason why they couldn’t be hammering away at creating or advertising Augmenta, the central technological advancement that drives the plot of Creative Control. The film starts from an entirely plausible place & doesn’t stray too far from that contemporary anchor, a decision that helps keep its technophobic paranoia surprisingly relatable, despite its hamfisted smartphone addiction shaming & the general unlikeablility of its characters.
The fictional technological advancement Augmenta, in case you haven’t guessed it, is posed as the next logical step in augmented reality. Housed in the clear plastic frames of hipster glasses, Augmenta is much more stylish than the Borg-ish look of Google Glass & aims for a Steve Jobs-esque attention to clean, fashionable visual aesthetic. The company hired to sell this product is a hipster Brooklynite version of Mad Men, complete with rampant alcoholism, model-chasing adultery, and hypermasculine ennui. This is cheap, casual sci-fi with occasional moments of off-putting acting choices, but it’s grounded in a very specific world of money-chasing advertisers & profit > people manufacturers that’s likely never going away, so it actually comes across as relatively pertinent to our current consumer culture. Creative Control toes the thin line that divides technology & magic, exploring the way that A.R. advancements attempt to “enhance real life with a magical layer in front of it.” It uses the uncanny, inevitable future of every consumer wearing a “face computer” to moralize about a modern society increasingly “addicted to misery & pain” and decreasingly engaged with life head on as characters multitask in both the real & digital worlds simultaneously, never fully focused on a single interaction in a constant attempt to focus on them all. Creative Control presents big ideas about digital & tangible interactions in a very realistic future, but those concerns merely color the anxieties of its beyond-grating cast of capitalist brutes rather than lead to some kind of grand, epiphanic statement about where our culture is headed.
For all of its see-through smartphones, holographic lap dances, and strange, geometrically-shaped pills, the world of Creative Control is still very much like our own. It’s even crawling with the same cocaine-numb bro monsters, douchebag fashion photographers, and overly flirtations yoga instructors that currently infest the masculine end of modern hipsterdom as we speak. Creative Control’s plot mostly revolves around a tangled web of adultery & romantic jealousies where an ad agency jerk (with a Yoni Wolf fashion sense) satisfies his lust for a skirt-chasing buddy’s girlfriend by masturbating to her avatar in his Augmenta-created fantasy world. In the process he loses touch with his girlfriend’s wants & needs and the basic demands of his job as he slips further into a drug & alcohol fueled confusion that blends reality & fantasy into a difficult-to-parse mess of petty romantic betrayals.
No one in the male-dominated film isn’t an asshole except the two girlfriends who get sucked into their partners’ corrosive bullshit and they’re treated like a nagging shrew & a magic pixie dream girl ideal, respectfully. The one exception there is Reggie Watts, playing himself as Augmenta’s chosen spokesman. It’s in Watts’s prankster-minded screen presence and in the film’s crisp, black & white digital cinematography that Creative Control finds its own voice as a distinct work. Its fretting over technology addiction & its anxious gaze into modern romance is a little less special, but also a natural element of its pedigree as a contemporary sci-fi drama. I left Creative Control glad to see Reggie Watts get paid for being his wonderfully weird self (along with a cameo role H Jon Benjamin) and super glad that I don’t have to deal with the film’s tech startup bros in my own life, though I know for sure that they exist. It worked pretty well for me in that way even if it wasn’t the cinematic breakthrough equivalent of augmented reality or “face computer” technology.