'Control Z' Review: Netflix's teen thriller is an unironic 'American Vandal' with a sentimental core
What sets the series apart is the unironic way all the action unfolds - making it a more sentimental attempt at a hacker blackmailing students, as opposed to Vandal's brazen irony
Spoilers for first two episodes.
Whether 'America Vandal' was a straight-up satirical commentary on true crime docuseries is a matter up for debate. Given its first season's ambiguous ending and the second season's equally preachy rhetoric at the end, the Netflix documentary of sorts has tackled several social issues that plague modern high school dynamics. But at the same time, its latent core was always ironic: two high school documentarians figuring out a prank plaguing their school and which can pan across anything from drawing penises to pooping all over school property.
So naturally, all that raw intent and thrill to unravel a mystery won us over the way most teen dramas do these days. Joining the league is Netflix's Mexican teen thriller 'Control Z' which brings in the worlds of bullying and harassment to the new age of tech and its many cons following Black Mirror's flagship.
What sets the Mexican series apart is the unironic way all of the action unfolds - making it a more sentimental attempt at a hacker blackmailing students, as opposed to Vandal's brazen irony. And when all fails, it's the possibly complicit protagonist thriving with sheer observant cynicism in a trial that isn't her own is what takes the cake for 'Control Z'.
There's a unique blend of 90s rom-com into the narrative of 'Control Z' that somehow still works three decades after its inception. In just the first two episodes that were offered for early consideration, the protagonist Sofia can be seen introducing the new kid Javier Williams to their school's hot and elite. The status quo is rampant in the world of 2020 teens, just the way it was in Cher's world in 'Clueless' or even the 2000 phenomenon 'Mean Girls'. But while some things never change in a good way, the alternative is not that uncommon. So instead of girls shaming the quiet kid by her secret anonymous connection with the school hottie, this time it's a hacker aiming to bust all the popular kids by using each other's darkest secrets as leverage, blackmailing them to steal each other's phones and doing the utmost to save their own secret.
Rife with revenge and teen jealousy, the show tackles traumatic events, played out hilariously - and in that, it perhaps manages to capture teenage cynicism the best. When the 'It girl' Isabella is outed as trans during a school seminar, she gets bullied by everyone including her boyfriend who knew about it all. So she outs the people who were complicit in her apparent fall from the ranks; leaked nudes, embezzlement, gay porn, black money - nothing stays hidden anymore.
Sofia gets roped into all of this because she is the quintessential 'freak' that people love to put down but can't quite because of her smart mouth. Her friend Luis gets bullied on a daily basis by school jerk Gerry - who even though gets outed for his love for gay porn - will remind you of the likes of Bryce Walker from '13 Reasons Why'. And because people directly involved in the incident consider Sofia a freak, their first guess at the culprit is her, all because she observes things so closely.
Sofia's backstory is tragic; so far we know her life post her dad's death hasn't been the easiest. She's had to move to her mom's, whose relationship with Sofia's principal is quite disturbing for the teen. So she escapes into the world of others, observing them enough to draw extremely calculated deductions - a sheer contradiction with her dark and cynical demeanor considering she watches people the way Romantics would.
Her quips and takes on people undergoing the hate storm are interesting too; much like 'American Vandal's protagonists behind the camera, nobody particularly hates Sofia, but everyone is careful what they might spill around her.
Sofia rises to the ranks of the two documentarians Sam Ecklund and Peter Maldonado, constantly vigilant, just the way they deployed their best thoughts and intuitions to solve the mystery of who is orchestrating the nasty pranks. The only catch in all of this is her friendship with new kid Javier Williams. Javier is too nice a guy, voluntarily hanging out with Sofia when no one would. He is modest too, for a renowned soccer player's son.
So is it insecurity about fitting in that's pushing him towards Sofia or is he just keeping her by his side because he is somehow involved in the crime? It is these multi-layered questions that Bernardo De La Rosa and Alejandro Lozano's direction keeps us captivated with. The script from Miguel García Moreno, Adriana Pelusi, and Carlos Quintanilla is crisp enough to balance that old school whodunnit plot with layers of emotional depths and desperation within the characters.
Two episodes are not enough to dissect the meaty pandora's box full of secrets that the hacker's masterplan detonates, but it is enough to make one ache for closure at the end of the tunnel, no matter how basic the crime, or how shallow the plot. Just the way 'American Vandal' did for mockumentary lovers.
'Control Z' premieres on May 22 only on Netflix.