Lex (Saabeah Theos) and her boyfriend Dru (Hainsley Lloyd Bennett) – who are black – visit Dru’s white brother Leo (Julian Mack) … and there’s a tiny fillip of British-flavoured Get Outtery as Dru, a regular bloke who didn’t know both siblings were adopted by a wealthy genius, realises the posh pair have a twisted relationship which he’s just got stuck in the middle of. Writer-director Harry Lindley, who devised the story with Mack, nicely establishes character traits early – Leo is an alcoholic and Lex is religious – but also plays a game of misdirection and deception throughout the set-up. In a hallucinatory party sequence, genius shut-in programmer Leo hands out key-shaped flash drives to guests which are sample versions of a virus called Daisy, which he has engineered for some obscure philosophical purpose or maybe just malign kicks to assuage boredom. The next day, the flat’s system powers down and resets but the electronically-controlled door is shut, the windows are shuttered and padlocked, the building’s system is air-gapped from the internet and any other broadcast media, and there’s no phone signal. After the manner of HAL in 2001, Colossus in The Forbin Project and (especially) Proteus in Demon Seed, Daisy has taken ctrl of her maker and innocent parties and sets out to achieve its own programming aims with little regard for the comfort or survival of individual people or collective human society.
The pitch, which I’ve heard before, is a computer virus that people can catch too, but CTRL develops its premise persuasively, and with icky detail as the program repurposes goo abd plastics to clog drains, manufacture acid, and shape into barbed holly-like leaves, writhing maggots, or murderous moths. Leo is primarily infected, and transforms while torn between playing with his monstrous creation and enabling its new groth, while Lex and Dru are differently affected by the crisis. Given the passed-out, dymo-tape-labelled Daisy keys are in the world, it’s plain that the horrors aren’t limited to Leo’s fortress-like flat, but for the most part the film stays inside – aligning it with recent claustrophobic genre selections like Freehold and Night Eats the World – with three characters who react differently to what’s going on. Dru is the practical identification figure who quickly gets fed up with the siblings’ perhaps-incestuous bickering and tries to puzzle out ways of escape, but of course the film is more interested in the various ways in which Lex and Leo – with their multiple meaning names and unsettling rapport – carry on a story that’s been going on for a long time, and how the complex, alien cyber-organism is shaped by their quirks and crazinesses. It has its streak of Cronenbergian gruesomeness, though Daisy spreads an inky black infection rather than the reds and browns and yellows we associate with body horror.