Carl’s life as a factory worker is a daily adventure in surviving work without getting too much dirt on himself, figuratively and literally. His office is a fenced cage on the factory floor, and his lunchtime is spent stuck in a room with a bunch of crazed factory workers. When co-worker Tad (Jerry Perna) mentions a potential management position opening up, Carl (Loren Boyer) dreams that he may be the one to get the promotion and finally move to an office off the factory floor.
I mean, he’s been there for years, and of everyone at work, he is easily the most responsible, and presentable. Still, we see the dangers inherent in the boss asking Carl to train his nephew Dennis (Jamie Simpson), even if Carl doesn’t, and outside of work Carl is a neurotic mess, worried that his wife (Aundrea Fares) is cheating on him.
Harvey Benschoter’s feature film Carl is a dry, darkly fantastical tale of one man’s personal Hell. Carl goes about his work with all the focus and ambition he can muster, but he’s constantly out of step with the rest of the factory workers, often portrayed as little better than unruly animals. The fact that Carl is often clean and relatively well-dressed separates him from the pack right there.
The narrative is not all that surprising; you never really doubt that, based on the overall tone of the piece, and the landscape of the factory dynamics, that Carl is going to be damned no matter what he does. Still, a film like this could’ve gone far darker, perhaps even turned on a more brutally violent note, but it stays relatively subdued in that manner. If you’re hoping for anyone to get their comeuppance, or things to end up roses, you’re watching the wrong film. Basically, Carl is like the frog in the pot of water who might be starting to suspect that someone has been slowly bringing the water to a boil around him, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to jump out in time to save his hide.
Tonally, the film sticks with dryly absurd, leaning towards dark comedy. Which is to say, moments are curiously humorous, though not in a laugh out loud manner. It’s a unique flavor for a film to take, and some will appreciate it for sticking to its mood and others might find it potentially boring. In many ways, watching Carl work is being stuck at work with Carl, and no one wants to do that.
For me, overall, I enjoyed the film’s odd mood and commitment to straightforward bleakness. I don’t think Carl is the type of film that works itself into heavy repeat viewing rotation, but it definitely delivers a viewing experience outside the norm. It’s one of those films that is done well, but you don’t imagine very many people seeing it and saying, “you have to see this movie!” Again, that doesn’t make it bad, it just doesn’t make it for everyone.
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