Sunday, January 31, 2016

Review: Nightmare_Code

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

Story, produced and directed by Mark Netter
Dark Program Productions / Nettertainment Films
Indie Rights Movies / MVD Visual
89 minutes, 2014 / 2015

Borderline personality disorder computer whiz Brett (Andrew J. West, who appears in a lot of guest roles on television shows, including Gareth in The Walking Dead), got caught up in a scheme, which cost him his job, perhaps his family (wife and kid), and some time in prison. Desperate, he finally gets a job at a start-up computer company after a coder went crazy and shot up the place, killing some of his coworkers. His job is to figure out just what happened.

Of course, being a computer company verily there must be geeks (where is Suzy the headbanger’s mother?). Someone’s been watching Big Bang Theory or just going to horror or comic conventions, because this crew is loaded with eccentrics, with the exception of the very serious female lead Nora (Mei Melançon).

The Programmers, including West (second from left)
and Melancon in front.
Among this group of big brains and little social contact, Nora remains the only really likeable character that one would naturally root for – even though she does something I found pretty out of character and kinda despicable – as not only are there nerds, but the business side is classic corporate nasty folks with little care about their employees, only their product (to be honest, I worked for a company like that for over a decade that a good friend just called “the Evil Empire”).

While Brett is working on the mysterious surveillance project that everyone is trying to keep hush-hush and yet still expecting quick results, he is sleeping on the office couch and Skyping with his daughter and trying-so-hard-to-accept attractive wife (Caitlyn Folley). While this is all going on, he is also investigating exactly what happened to his predecessor, the shoot-'em-up guy, Foster (Googy Gress). Natch, he finds clues which lead him to discover, pretty early on so I’m not giving much away, that the guy may have actually managed to write a program that put him into the machine’s circuitry upon crossing over.

Folley in the center and West in the Insert
The ghost in the machine – here used more literally – is hardly a new premise in this day and age of nearly omnipresent computer technology; hell, it’s been fodder for stories since probably the 1950s or ‘60s. Japan has tons of stories along this idea, especially in manga books.

Even in death, the murderous previous programmer is having a disastrous effect on whomever views the computer files, bringing murder and death reminiscent of the last act of Five Million Years to Earth (1967, aka Quartermass and the Pit). He could also be seen as a Jim Jones, or the leader of the Heaven’s Gate debacle.

But I’m happy to say that the director, Mark Netter, wisely takes some original steps along the way, making this watchable, especially the cool ending. The code everyone is working on is for worldwide surveillance, a hot topic right now. To make it even more interesting, this is kind of a found footage, ironically using the very surveillance cameras in the organization (where a very large majority of the film takes place). Sometimes we are viewing up to four cameras at the same time. But to make it even more interesting, Netter sometimes fools around with the chronology just a bit to make it more dramatic, and that works, too.

Most of the effects look nearly as good as, say, CSI: Cyber, though I going to guess the budget here is significantly lower, so kudos on that. There isn’t much blood, though considering the way things are going lately thanks to the NRA-influenced “give guns to everyone” reality we currently live in, there are plenty of real people going to offices and letting a few rounds fly (as I write this, someone has just shot up an office in Toronto, and this month some teen shot up a school in northern Saskatchewan, making this kind of currently culturally salient to the point of it may or may not strike a chord and make the viewer squirm a bit, taking even the sci-fi premise a bit close to home.

There is a lot of media theory in here, which is touched on in the extras, including determinism, Neil Postman’s theory that every technology is a Faustian Bargain, and sometimes technology ends up doing exactly opposite of what it was intended for, such as the Internet supposedly connecting us all, yet we are even more isolated in our own rooms, reaching out.

There are a few extras, most of which are about two-to-three minutes long, including some technical stuff and character examinations that I recommend watching after the film, the trailer (a version of it below), and a full length commentary by the director, lead actors West and Melançon. It’s actually an excellent one as everyone doesn’t try to talk over the others (though it happens occasionally naturally), and the content is a nice mixture of shooting anecdotes, technical stuff, and the thoughts behind the story.

While the film is ambitious, it doesn’t try to overreach its goal, which is a compliment. Sure, in a world where so many indie directors are trying to build an art piece because they own an Apple Computer and know some editing tricks, Netter instead knows he has a good thing going with his application of technology and the various media arenas used, from said surveillance cameras to cell phone messages, to…well, let’s just call it the version of The Cloud, and he seems to know that’s a lot to deal with on its own.  Include the time warping, and that’s makes the mundane into the interesting.


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