“The man always cooks the meat,” states Lisa’s smug, vaguely condescending husband Abel (Stephen Bogardus). Surrounded by such smothering attitudes, it’s little wonder that Lisa (Jennifer van Dyck) feels trapped and emotionally unfulfilled by her sterile Manhattan existence and loveless marriage, especially when it becomes apparent that Abel is as frigid physically as he is emotionally.
When introduced to Paul (John Cunningham), an almost cruelly callous older theater director, their smoldering relationship pours fire on Lisa’s burgeoning desires to break free from her confining existence. Like a somber and serious butterfly erupting from an even grimmer cocoon, Lisa embarks on a dangerous voyage of self-discovery. Throughout lengthy self-induced bouts of sleep deprivation, Lisa becomes intrigued with pornography, places herself in a number of sexually compromising positions and begins acting in ways that deliberately drive off Abel and her friends. Once embarked on this path of social isolation, Lisa eventually reaches a crossroads; facing a choice between turning back towards society or completing her almost primeval journey of self-fulfillment.
Set against its backdrop of a failing, loveless marriage, shallow relationships and tacky pornography, “States of Control” runs the risk of being as depressing as Lisa’s empty existence. That there’s virtually no dialogue for most of the film’s latter half only adds to its somber naval gazing. Fortunately, director Zack Winestine has added just a touch of nihilistic humor to the film. That, combined with the ultimately liberating nature of Lisa’s admittedly extreme quest helps keep the film from being too brooding and gloomy.
Cunningham is excellent as Paul, so dismissively fascist in his outlook that Lisa’s inexorably drawn to him like a masochistic moth to a searing flame. Yet, van Dyck more than holds her own, each onion-skinned layer of Lisa’s character stripping away like HAL’s intelligence near the end of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” As “States of Control” opens, Abel fulfills his manly duty at the grill. By the end of the film, one wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the almost feral Lisa killing, skinning and cooking wild a rabbit. Not bad for a bored and struggling Manhattan novelist.