The Control Group (2014)
Directed by: Peter Hurd.
Written by: Logan Gion.
Starring: Brad Dourif, Ross Destiche, Jenna Enemy.
“Trapped in an abandoned insane asylum, five college students and the rogue scientists who abducted them must band together when a supernatural threat appears.”
Trust is an unusual motif for a horror movie, but it is a predominant theme within The Control Group, which seems apposite given the current climate of political and societal unrest. Do we trust our governments or their agencies? Do we trust our friends and family? Can we even trust ourselves?
If these questions are all sounding a little Kafkaesque, that’s probably because The Control Group has a very Kafkaesque feel. There are few explanations given and, when questions are asked, there is always the strong suspicion that better questions should have been raised.
We start the film being introduced to Jack (Ross Destiche: Keepsake, Domina, Death to Prom). He’s just woken up but he doesn’t know where, how or why. Save for a few fleeting flashbacks, one prompted by the mention of a tragedy, another prompted by the sight of the scars on his wrists, Jack is unable to remember much. Even when he can, he knows he can’t trust his judgement. That’s the sort of world Jack lives in.
Jack meets a group of ‘friends’ who seem very shouty and animated as they exposition their way through the film’s first main conversation. We meet Vanessa (Jenna Enemy: Keepsake, American Beast, Watch Over Me), Jaime (Kodi Saint Angelo: Juiced, Echoes, The Kettleman), Grant (Justen Jones: The Sand Box, Fall Into Me, Flourtown) and Corey (Shane Philip making his debut appearance). And no one knows if their very vocal confusion comes from a chemical indulgence, a supernatural element, or if some other preternatural explanation is responsible. Grant is one of those overachieving bullies who deserves the unpleasantness that we hope is headed his way. Jaime is a hippy airhead, in tune with the ‘ghosts’ surrounding the group. Corey is spineless and Vanessa is a bitch being abused by Grant. The whole group are the sort who would make Amnesty International write letters to their captors saying, “They deserve more torture.”
There are some great points to this film that are marred by poor-quality effects. When characters get electrocuted, and several of them do encounter electricity, the effects prove to be shocking: but not in the good way. If anything, the effects are reminiscent of the low budget overlays that were used on the likes of Birdemic or the later Christopher Reeve Superman outings. It’s a small but (I think) valid criticism, that an audience’s suspension of disbelief can be easily shattered by a poor effect. And, since director Peter Hurd had already made the sensible decision to have a lot of the movie’s deaths and violence occur just off screen, adding to the tension by exploiting the audience’s imagination, it’s puzzling as to why this decision wasn’t extended to obviate the distraction that comes from those not-that-special effects.
That said, the whole idea is worth checking out because it does have a neatly original feel. Admittedly, there were parts that felt like a homage to Cabin in the Woods (or even i-Zombie) with the suggestion of covert government agencies that share a secret relationship with supernatural entities. But this felt less like a reimagining of a modern classic and more like an attempt to forge new ground in a developing genre. It should also be said that these scenes with covert government agencies are wonderfully exploited by Dr Broward (Brad Dourif: Child’s Play, Deadwood, Halloween and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) who steals every scene in which he appears.
And, I have to admit that I was very impressed by the use of shutter-speed adjusting as a cinematic device. It was a technique that produced stilted results, with some events seeming to begin after they’d happened, all of which added to the suggestion of chemically altered interpretation and faltering cognition skills.
Overall, this film is about an abandoned insane asylum with a group of difficult-to-like college kids being subjected to violent extremes whilst the paranoia of drug abuse being manifested as a reality. And, when you put it like that, is there a better way to spend Saturday night than watching The Control Group?