A killer is terrorizing the subway stations beneath Budapest. Like the Angel of Death, he stalks the tunnels and platforms in a black hood, sneaking up behind late-night commuters and shoving them into the path of oncoming trains. It’s into this Langian netherworld that Bulcsú (Sándor Csányi), the roguish young hero of writer-director Nimród Antal’s debut feature, “Kontroll,” has exiled himself from life on the surface.

When he isn’t curled up on a desolate platform, Bulcsú is riding the rails as a ticket control officer for the metro. Alongside his ragtag crew, he patrols the subways, making sure they’re free of freeloaders. Judging from Antal’s depiction, it’s a hellish gig, prone to frequent scuffles with authorities, fellow inspectors, not to mention the host of belligerent, ticketless commuters, each itching for a fight, a chase or both.

“Kontroll” finds its footing not upon the rungs of plot, but through a succession of vignettes depicting the inspectors’ workaday grind. Antal gets the textures right, all urban grime and pallid lighting that gets under your skin, but there’s a jokiness to these sequences, a gimmickry in the cutting and the theatrics, that points to the filmmaker’s background in commercials and music videos And for a movie about a killer on the loose, there is scant dread and paranoia at work here: Neither the ticket inspectors nor commuters seem terribly concerned, and there’s none of the morbid sense of inquiry behind the killer’s motives, both ingredients with which thrillers achieve their credibility. The movie, instead, settles in on Bulcsú as he tangles with rival inspectors, falls for Sofie (Eszter Balla), the lovely, self-assured daughter of an aging metro driver, before he finds himself the lead suspect in the subway killings. You can see the final showdown between Bulcsú and the killer coming as clearly as the headlights of the next train. It’s not the destination that counts in “Kontroll,” however, but the visceral delights to be had in getting there.

Above all, “Kontroll” is a gleeful demonstration of Antal’s flair for the medium. He is clearly a natural, as comfortable with the classical fundamentals of craft as with the hyperkinetic attitude of the modern action movie. Propelled by a dance-fevered soundtrack, Antal has fashioned an enticing allegory about lives suspended in self-imposed purgatory and seeking to rise again into the light of the real world.

Grade: A-

Directed by: Nimród Antal
Written by: Jim Adler, Nimród Antal
Cast: Sándor Csányi, Eszter Balla, Csaba Pindroch, Zsolt Nagy


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