Slapping the phrase "one of the most underrated independent films of the Nineties" on a DVD case is pretty ballsy, considering "underrated independent films of the Nineties" are a dime a dozen on cable – but if anything, writer/director Zach Winestine's States of Control is more of a throwback to "message" cinema of the Sixties and Seventies. Its focus on breaking from the monotony of modern life, albeit in a somewhat radical fashion, as viewed by the film's ersatz heroine Lisa (Jennifer van Dyck), marks Winestine as a filmmaker with more on his mind than mere titillation.
Bored with her day-to-day existence, Lisa works at an experimental theater in New York City and is married to Abel (Stephen Bogardus), an artist who, um, can't quite perform in the bedroom. Stymied, Lisa (who also happens to be a failed novelist) strikes up a friendship with Paul (John Cunningham), a stage director whose politics hearken back to the days of the Weather Underground. Lisa also becomes friendly with Carol (Ellen Greene), a sexually voracious actress whose forthright attitude about her body leads Lisa to become enamored (briefly) with pornography. Throughout it all, Lisa keeps a journal to herself, detailing her inner thoughts, as she steadily breaks down her barriers. States of Control builds to a deeply unsettling climax – Lisa, after forcing herself to stay awake for 51 hours, embarks upon a vaguely political mission to separate herself once and for all from society.
More ambitious than it would seem on the surface, States of Control offers a little more to chew on that much of Nineties independent cinema – van Dyck's performance grounds the film and lends the narrative much of its emotional power. It's not a showy, kinetic piece but rather one that works on you slowly, slipping under your skin and lingering for days afterward.
States of Control is offered up with a 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen transfer that suffers from noticeable flicker early on – once the flicker settles down, the image looks blown-out and slightly soft. It's unfortunate since Winestine got his start as a cinematographer, but the film doesn't look very sharp in this DVD incarnation.
The unremarkable Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack gets the job done, conveying the dialogue free of distortion or drop-out. There's an occasional tendency for sound effects to momentarily overwhelm the actors, but infrequently – States of Control won't wow your system, but you won't strain to hear what's said.
There's not much here, but what's included is worth perusing: the film's trailer is here as is a five minute, 48 second documentary titled "'On Some Consequences of a Passage,' by Guy Debord." A photo gallery, nine music-only tracks excerpted from the "States of Control" soundtrack, biographies for Winestine, van Dyck, Cunningham, Greene, Bogardus, director of photography Susan Starr, editor Jim Villone and composer Richard Termini, with a 22-page Winestine interview, conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Julie Rigg rounding out the disc.
States of Control is a slow-burn surprise that might sneak up on jaded viewers sick of "edgy" dramas – Jennifer van Dyck's keenly felt performance helps lend writer/director Zack Winestine's intellectually ambitious debut some extra heft. Recommended.