As its title implies, “She’s Lost Control” tracks the gradual breakdown of its heroine (Brooke Bloom), a grad student working as a sexual surrogate in New York. A hundred eighty degrees away from the sentimentality of the similarly themed “The Sessions,” Anja Marquardt’s debut feature favors cold, clinical compositions, often showing characters from behind; this austerity, while mirroring the clients’ intimacy issues, also creates an uncomfortable tension with Bloom’s open, hopeful expressions. Whether Marquardt’s radically distanced style reflects a purely aesthetic choice or an attempt to downplay sensationalism, the absence of warmth may chill potential audience response.
Ronah (Bloom) operates in tandem with a psychiatrist (Dennis Boutsikaris) who refers patients to her services. She enjoys a friendly relationship with a few clients (Tobias Segal, Robert Longstreet) whose sessions the film samples — some in conversation, some in bed. When not working, she consults with her own shrink/mentor (Laila Robins), and impatiently communicates via Skype with her increasingly worried brother (Ryan Homchick) about their mentally ill mother. She visits a clinic to extract and freeze her eggs, and eats lonely dinners in her featureless apartment. Walking to her various appointments, Ronah traverses a cityscape composed of angled, unyielding surfaces that cramp and hem her in.
Her manner with patients resembles that of a concerned relative or confidante, in many ways offering a low-rent “Girlfriend Experience,” with a starkness that replaces the high-tech patina of Steven Soderbergh’s Gotham. But Ronah’s caring professionalism is called into question by her new client Johnny (Marc Menchaca), a good-looking, red-bearded anesthesiologist who proves unusually recalcitrant. Marquardt traces their relationship from its beginnings, with a swab test for STDs, payment upfront, and paperwork that ensures confidentiality while specifying that their encounters are “not for sexual gratification or entertainment.” Certainly no one here seems particularly gratified or entertained.
As his meetings with Ronah progress, in exercises designed to increase intimacy, Johnny takes one step backward for every two he advances, still recoiling at times from being touched or leaving abruptly when he feels threatened. Ronah, on the other hand, begins to fall for her patient, secretly spying on him at work and becoming jealous of his ease with a female colleague. Other pressures mount: Marquardt refrains from treating a leak in Ronah’s bathroom wall as a lesion through which horror seeps (no “Dark Water,” this), though the incident does escalate into a full-blown landlord/tenant dispute as everyone within the heroine’s purview turns impossibly needy or hostile, Johnny shockingly so.
Marquardt never buries her symbolic subtext very deep, what with a woman who freezes her eggs and a man who ensures that his patients feel nothing. She presents a tightly wound, lonesome heroine whose only promise of intimacy (sex) must be compartmentalized and intellectualized. Ronah’s loss of control brings neither catharsis nor liberation, either to the character or to the film. Marquardt includes indie helmer Lodge Kerrigan in her end-credits acknowledgments and her film owes an obvious debt to his unsettling aesthetic. But where Kerrigan pushes his minimalism to extremes, Marquardt naturalizes it, paradoxically lessening any sense of what has been left out of the emotional equation.
Cinematographer Zach Galler’s low-lit compositions, reducing the characters’ readability while increasing their loneliness, combines with David Meyer’s barren production design to amplify the overall atmosphere of dreary alienation.