Which is more likely, for the president of the United States to wake up in a mental institution, or for a mental patient to wake up in the seat of the president? That’s the core question in Current Occupant.
Falling mid-Independence Day month as it does, Current Occupant feels timely in more ways than one. And the latest installment in Hulu’s Into the Dark keeps viewers guessing for almost the entirety of its 85 minute runtime. It makes the most of its familiar contained setting of a grimy mental institution. A few forays into a Clockwork Orange/Paralax View conditioning chamber provide variety.
Current Occupant is a dark, suspenseful, and twisty viewing experience with Barry Watson (The Loudest Voice) making viewers empathize with his troubled Henry Cameron even in moments of leaning toward the latter side of the central question.
Much of the time, Henry is in a battle of wills with lead psychiatrist Dr. Larson (Sonita Henry of Krypton). When he’s not, it’s a more physical struggle with an alternately polite and brutal attendant. That’s rapper and actor Marvin “Krondon” Jones III of Black Lightning in a charismatic performance.
This is not unfamiliar territory for die-hard sci-fi fans. John Kessel’s modern science fiction short story classic “A Clean Escape,” presents a similar scenario. That was adapted as an installment of ABC’s Masters of Science Fiction.
The approach is different here, grittier and more personal, and there’s a sense of authenticity, fueled by current events but also by the insider’s touch in the script by Alston Ramsay, former speechwriter for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and others.
Quirky questions keep things interesting also. Why does everyone in Henry’s support group suffer from delusions of grandeur, and what’s up with those occasional, surreal facial distortions of adversaries?
Tension and suspense build as Henry plots escape with a fellow inmate who might have been his secretary of state, and rays of hope shine in as he confers with a sympathetic nurse. But frequent setbacks and the ongoing machinations of a shadowy administrator keep forcing reboots of his plans and his reality.
Individual reactions to the final, final revelation may temper overall satisfaction, but this should shine as a standout in the Into the Dark series especially for those with a taste for its brand of twists and tension.
Wicked Rating: 8/10
Director: Julius Ramsay
Writers: Alston Ramsay
Starring: Barry Watson, Sonita Henry, Marvin “Krondon” Jones III, Kate Cobb, Dana Cornelius
Release: July 17, 2020 (Hulu)
Runtime: 85 minutes