Nucleolab Kill Switch


General Munro isn’t sure what’s going to come out of the other end of Mactilburgh’s process. He’s never seen a Mondoshawan and doesn’t know if they can be trusted. Fortunately for his sense of panic, there’s a built in kill switch on the control panel facing the nucleolab chamber. To activate the switch, he slips his multipass into a slot. While this card is in the slot, a small red LED lights, and the Big Red Button is active.


The interface is simple to read, which is nice. The button conveys a bit of its importance through its size and color. The order of operations is well laid out for a Western user: left to right, in the order of reading.


Three improvements

There are lots of questions about the security strategy, though. Single-factor authentication is too easy to thwart. Couldn’t someone just take his multipass and use it? How does the system know it’s really Munro? Better would be multifactor authentication, requiring both this token and either a knowledge token like a password, or an inheritance factor. Maybe it could require Munro to place his other hand on a handprint reader before the button activates.

Another problem is that the signal that this button is active is too tiny: that little red LED that’s associated with the slot rather than the button. If this is an undoable action, you’d hope that the input would convey the sense of risk. Maybe have the button glow, or surround it with a glowing red ring (think the Krell warning system)?

If it really is a kill switch, i.e. would kill the subject, a nice safeguard against accidental activation would be a press-and-hold button, requiring Munro to hold it down for a few seconds while a warning klaxon sounds. This would give Munro the opportunity to change his mind or move his hand if he’d placed it accidentally. If it triggers something nonlethal, like an incapacitating sticky foam, then no such delay is necessary.

The breach

The breach is not well-handled by the systems around the control room. Not only do the lights not have a local backup power source, but the screens on the background display Big Labels saying unhelpful things like, “ESCAPE ALERT – UNKNOWN SECURITY BREACH.” If you were designing a system specifically to control nightmare monsters to sacrifice helpless victims, I think the first thing your risk officer should work out is a system that can recognize and withstand when one of those two things (monsters or victims) was out of place. The least you could do is provide users with extremely clear status messages about them.

Sitterson and Truman scan the video monitors for Dana and Marty.

Escape hatch

After the breach, we see one more interface for the stage managers: an old escape route. Even though Control is world-critical, its designers imagined that things could go haywire. Presuming that other scenarios are going fine, if all hope is lost in this one, the stage managers have a way out of the control room. We only get a few glimpses of this interface, but it looks to be a computer-controlled security access lock whose 8-bit graphics imply that it was implemented in the early 1990s, around the time when Microsoft Windows 3.1 was the dominant computing paradigm.

Sitterson desperately enters his PID.

After working desperately a bit, Sitterson is able to get the system to a screen that asks for his PID. He uses a rubber-key keypad below the screen to enter it, and is told “SECURITY OVERRIDE GRANTED.” In this way he is able to open the trap door and escape the monsters swarming the control room.

Especially given the amount of stress that a user is likely to be under while using this interface, and the infrequency with which it must be used, it seems absolutely cruel to secure the door by a memorized identification number. Unless that PID is used frequently enough to become habit, it’s unlikely to be remembered when the user is trying to escape death. Better is to use the ID cards already seen in the film in combination with some biometric scan like retina or finger print.

The “Resources”

There is a system in place to manage the “resources,” the nightmare creatures available to be chosen by the victims for their sacrifice. This management includes letting them out to the surface, putting them back in place safely, and containment throughout the intervening year between sacrifices.

Dana and Marty experience the cages from the perspective of a monster

The one interface element that we do see in use is the one that Dana and Marty use to release the imprisoned nightmare monsters throughout the complex. It is a single kill-switch button labeled “SYSTEM PURGE”, located on a panel in the security booth that overlooks the main elevator bank. While hiding from approaching security forces, Dana notices the switch beneath the monitoring screens. She flips a protective switch cover to enable it, sees a confirming amber light, and then slams down on the kill switch. Moments later, the first of several waves of nightmare monsters are released through the elevator doors into the complex.

Dana slams the System Purge kill switch.

From a story viewpoint, this is an awesome moment where the story becomes utter chaos and the workforce of jaded sacrificers get their horrible, horrible come-uppance. But from a design standpoint, it’s utter nonsense. Imagine a nuclear power plant where the kill switch, which is accessible through an unlocked door and labeled clearly for any saboteur to read, dumps live fuel rods and heavy water onto the heads of the plant operators. Or a zoo where the animals-are-furious-and-hungry switch dumps the animals right onto the grounds. A system like Control, with global reach and resources, would find some other space into which this murderous tsunami can be vented, and ensure proper security around the activation mechanism. Still, this makes for hilarious chaos and the “happy” ending, so as audience members we’re glad Control messed up on its design strategy.

Marty had already been shown to be able to hack Control’s electronics upstairs, so I suspect the narrative decision about the purge switch was made to give Dana some additional agency in this part of the story, and add some punch to the onset of the final act, so we’ll count that as a minor quibble, too.