Hype can be a dangerous thing. Is it after all a fickle critter that once rattled can never really be sent back to its cage. So when Bernie Su and his team behind Compulsions began their late summer teases for their dark web thriller, they knew this day would come. The internet’s day of reckoning.
Today the 8-episode series debuts exclusively on Dailymotion, having signed a deal with the site granting it a month-long exclusive window on Compulsions. Already the popular video site had been featuring the trailer for the series front and center, and it now leads with the first episode surrounded by some custom front page skinning.
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Last night in Los Angeles, in a packed screening premiere at Cinespace a room full of some 200 or so lucky ones had a chance to collectively writhe and squirm through the first 4 episodes. “I know the expectations are high,” wrote creator Bernie Su in a post before the premiere, “especially for independent web content but I honestly don’t know if the general audience will love it or not. Our show is dark, intense, and gritty. Though I can say this… our show is definitely something else.”
The series centers on three hidden desires, or compulsions, afflicting three respective main characters. There’s Mark (Craig Frank), the compulsive sadist chillingly unaffected by his routine torture games. Mark’s mysterious handler Justine (Janna Bossier) who’s compulsive “trophy hunting” has something to do with tracking down a missing “package.” And Mark’s office co-worker Cassandra (Annemarie Pazmino) who delivers a tech-infused modern day twist on compulsive voyeurism.
Casting for the series is superb—a healthy dose of web series notables, but without any hint of stunt casting. The standout here though is Craig Frank, known previously for his array of comedy roles in series like The Crew, Private High Musical and Craig and the Werewolf. His layered performance contrasting unassuming office lackey with charged torture junkie is what carries the opening episodes. Only in the office scenes does Frank start dolling out pitch perfect straight man comedy, next to his comically gabby coworker (Sean Spence), giving the live screening crowd its sparse laugh breaks. Seth Caskey and After Judgment star Taryn O’Neill guest star in fearless roles as Adam and Sara, two of Mark’s uncooperative victims.
The structure of the series, as a building crescendo of eight throbbing episodes, is by design. Su, who wrote the script specifically for the almost a year ago, made careful strokes to avoid just chopping up a feature film into bite sized chunks. Director Nathan Atkinson equated the tension and suspense of each episode as being similar to early 20th century Nickelodeon theater shorts saying, “it’s cliffhanger, after cliffhanger, after cliffhanger.” His DP, a fellow AFI film school grad, Jason Raswant, also made choices specific to internet viewing like spare use of wide shots and crafting medium shots essentially as close ups.
In a Q&A sessions after the screening, someone in the crowd asked Su what his own compulsion is, to which the always color coordinated Su quickly replied— “I’m a compulsive attention grabber.” And so far grabbing attention is something has pulled off deftly. The next test is whether or not the show can keep (and build) on it.
Episode 1, “Unleash,” premiered today (below). New episodes roll out each weekday through December 10.