In US elections, there’s a thing called the “October surprise”, which is when a candidate pulls out some information as a last minute battle axe to wield against their opponent. It was clear a couple weeks ago that Trump was aiming to have a miracle vaccine in October as his surprise to best Joe Biden—he hath given us a miracle cure!—but now the October surprise is that Trump has the damn virus himself. All of this renders Alex Gibney’s new documentary about the US government’s response to COVID-19 an exercise in super-irony, as clips of Trump downplaying the spreading epidemic earlier this year now seem like scenes from a horror movie of that one fool who insists on going into the clearly haunted basement.
Called Totally Under Control, Gibney worked with directors Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger to produce the documentary detailing America’s (disastrous) COVID response. They say they made it “in secret”, the first acknowledgment of this film’s existence came in mid-September when Neon acquired it for distribution. It certainly looks damning, with many tight-lipped doctors and officials talking about our failed response to the pandemic. I’m just not sure it matters. At this point, there are two camps of people: those who believe the pandemic is real and Trump botched the response, and those who think it’s okay to let hundreds of thousands of people die as long as they are not personally inconvenienced by it. The former may feel a sense of “Ha! I KNEW it!” satisfaction from Totally Under Control, the latter group will never be moved to consider the health and well-being of others. While I think it’s incredible Gibney and his collaborators were able to pull this together, and it might be an important artifact for the record, I just don’t think it’s going to have any real-world impact. I don’t think anything will. Two hundred and nine thousand - 209,000 - Americans are dead. If that doesn’t move people to take this seriously, nothing will.
Totally Under Control will be available on demand from October 13, and streaming on Hulu from October 20.