Here’s my No. 1 tip for enjoying Compulsions, the drama launching today on Dailymotion: Don’t get too hung up on it being “twisted.” The series, which presents itself as a spin on darker dramas like Dexter, has its moments of violence but not on the level of the Saw-esque torture porn that’s been numbing America for the past several years. A shot or two in the first four episodes might challenge the squeamish, but overall the effect is psychological, and not too beyond the pale — if you’re a David Fincher fan, it’s much less Se7en and much more Fight Club.
The reason I suggest downplaying your expectations is because once you do, what emerges is an intriguing noir mystery structured not around plot, but around character. In the first four episodes of the eight-part series, we meet Mark (Craig Frank), a self-described sadist who balances a dull office day job with nights spent using his talents for pain to extract information from the unwilling. Fortunately, the sociopathic Justine (Janna Bossier) is there to fuel him with “clients,” whose torture-induced confessions are clearly leading Mark and Justine toward an unknown, but major, acquisition. However, whatever that might be is a classic MacGuffin; instead, the emphasis is on who these people are, and what happens when they indulge in their personal “compulsions.”
While direction by Nathan Atkinson, an American Film Institute graduate, has its occasional awkward moments, the production values are overall top-notch; writer/creator Bernie Su brings a staccato approach to his crafting of dialogue, which is sharp and has real moments of wit. And Frank, who’s been a standout performer in ensemble productions like The Crew and Elevator, proves here that he can carry a series with just one twitch of his eyebrows — he’s one of the most exciting acting talents I’ve seen emerge from the web series world lately, and it’ll be interesting to see where things go for him.
Dailymotion, which has the month-long exclusive, has thrown the full weight of its site behind driving viewership, with the series prominently featured on the front page and on-site banner ads. Given that the show represents the site’s first real move toward featuring an independent drama series (possibly the closest it’s come in the past is the Lord of the Rings fan film The Hunt for Gollum), it’s heartening to see that kind of commitment. The world of quality indie drama on the web isn’t a large one, but Compulsions makes it just that much bigger.