A Film a Week - Control / Het Tweede Gelaat

The third instalment of Vincke-Verstuyft film series based on Jef Geeraets’ hit crime novels titled Control (the original Flemish title with the direct translation Double Face makes a bit more sense, while avoiding confusing the film with a dozen others) came eight years after the second and the whole 14 after the first one. While The Memory of the Killer (2003) was a considerable international hit that year, even dubbed the year’s best crime thriller, Dossier K. (2009) never raised above the local level. So far, Control falls somewhere in between those two: it is a well-done, slick crime thriller / procedural with some festival and video exposure world wide, yet nothing exactly groundbreaking.

Directed by Dossier K.’s Jan Verheyen, Control is the strongest in portrayal of two Antwerp ace police detectives working on especially complex cases, Fredy Verstuyft and Eric Vincke (Werner De Smedt and Koen De Bouw, respectively, both reprising their roles from previous films) and the rift the time has created between them. The case in case here is the one involving a vicious serial killer who leaves naked, decapitated bodies of women somewhere in the eastern part of Flanders. While “by the book” Vincke, now superior to his former partner, wants to explore the murders connection to similar cases in Cologne and even employs a profiler from Netherlands Mulder (Marcel Hensema), “rogue” Verstuyft thinks the key to solve the mystery is Rina (Sofie Hoflack), a minor celebrity psychologist / owner of a rehabilitation centre and a party animal whom he found naked and possibly drugged in the vicinity of one of the crime scenes and took for intended next victim of the killer. The woman drives the rift in between two of them and the things worsen when Verstuyft starts a romantic relationship with her…

The good thing is that Control is more modest than ambitious, which serves perfectly for a police procedural / serial killer flick. The particular subgenre was bled dry in the 90’s, so some kind of relocation and re-contextualization would not do suffice to save it. Verheyen, however, goes for the familiar “meat and potatoes” appeal for serial watchers and fans of the genre with a dash of euro-chic taken from Scandinavian thrillers and neo-noirs from the first decade of the new millennium, mostly felt in crisp digital cinematography by Danny Elsen that starts with lots of modern architecture in cold palette shifting it to depleted city centre flats and warmer bloody reds nearing the end and in Joris Oonk’s and Chirsnanne Wiegel’s electronic score discretely dictating the tempo.

Well-acted and well-directed, Control does not wear out its welcome even in the format of a notch over two hours. The script by Carl Joos (of Broken Circle Breakdown fame) is functional enough to propel the film from point A to point B to point C and so on, the dialogue is witty at moments and Joos acknowledges the limitations of the genre as in the limits of the pool of suspects, deploying plot twists in all the right places. The director Verheyen deserves kudos for hat-tips to sleazy thrillers of the 90’s and especially to Paul Verhoeven’s masterpiece of the genre, Basic Instinct, as he does for a couple of sex scenes between Fredy and Rina. No matter that they are, like, ridiculously pretty people (movie star level) we probably could not see in real life. Well, how about those beheaded corpses in densely populated Flanders? I did not think so either.

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