You Are the Captain

By Dan Samiljan | Comedy
A woman joins a mysterious self-help program. But gets more than she expected.

Claire is alone in her apartment when she catches an infomercial for a wellness program called the Dante Elmers Method. Intrigued, she signs up for a free trial and receives the first VHS tape.

The tapes are cheesy and Claire is skeptical, but something in the tapes continues to intrigue her. She tries to cancel the trial but somehow keeps receiving the tapes, which are individualized for her. Despite her best efforts, she can't quite opt-out, with an unseen force determined to help Claire change her life, no matter what.

Directed by Dan Samiljan from a script by Andrew Danks, this intriguing and compelling short comedy is less about antics and jokes and more about a keen eye and ear for the textures of modern life. With its bright yet strangely isolated visual atmosphere and its cloistered setting, it speaks to a strange, almost claustrophobic existential isolation, as we watch Claire spending her days doing not very much. In a move to give herself direction and inspiration, she signs up for Dante Elmers's program, and the dialogue perfectly captures the far-out yet seductively compassionate parlance of modern self-help.

But about halfway through, the film slowly shifts tone. Its airy visuals transition to something more shadowy, and its editing and pacing begin to resemble more a thriller than comedy. Claire soon discovers that it's not easy to quit despite her considerable efforts, and the events draw viewers in with a sense of suspense at the odd happenings onscreen. What's quirky becomes oddly eerie, mirrored in the spare electronic soundtrack.

Actor Candice Ramirez holds attention as the main character, alone for the majority of the film, and she oscillates between Claire's aimlessness, skepticism and intrigue. But she gets a jolt of energy, ironically, as she tries to stop the rest of the tapes by Dante Elmers (played by Matt Gourley of Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend) from arriving at her home. It's a relief when she's finally able to unsubscribe, and it gets her out of her rut. But Claire soon discovers that it's not so easy to turn away from enlightenment once you're on the path.

Darkly quirky, eccentric and slyly subversive, "You Are the Captain" could be a dark modern fairy tale of spam taken to the next level. But it also pokes fun at how immersed self-help is into our culture and the idea that we can always be a better, more improved version of ourselves through simple steps and affirmation. The irony is Claire does find direction and purpose, but through conflict and standing up for what she wants. Where that direction leads may be an open question, though. No one knows where the ship is headed for Claire, but the skies are filled with dark portents.

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