Nightmare Code Movie Review
Written by Karin Crighton
Released by Indie Rights Movies
Written and directed by Mark Netter
2014, 90 minutes, Not Rated
DVD released on October 27th, 2015
Andrew J. West as Brett Desmond
Mei Melançon as Nora Huntsman
Googy Gress as Foster Cotton
Ivan Shaw as Alex Chou
Nightmare Code is a nightmarish exploration of Singularity, the theory we can map our brainwaves and chemical impulses to be uploaded to a server. Online we can maintain our identity while shedding our mortality. But of course, an idea that seems a little too perfect is always not.
In Nightmare Code, genius loner Foster Cotton (Googy Gress) has created the most incredible software known to man. It can learn facial expressions, tell the user when someone is lying, predict what they'll do next, and identify potential threats. But Cotton's genius is unappreciated. His hermit personality and general loneliness are disliked by his bosses, and once program “Roper” is ready, they plan to terminate him. Too bad Roper already told him they would...and he was ready. Fugitive programmer Brett Desmond (Andrew J. West) arrives to repair the parts of the program Cotton destroyed before his own exit, the only programmer desperate enough to take such a high-risk job. But Roper doesn't want to be fixed.
The X-Files covered this in “Kill Switch”, and it's a bit reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Hal 9000. But Nightmare Code does have an interesting B story that is all too timely.
Brett is running from the lawyers for being a whistle-blower at his last job. He gave away defense secrets à la Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, but with a wife and child depending on him, he couldn't flee the country. He's got all his money tied up in appeals court, and is desperate to take any job, no matter what the risk, to stay out of jail and get home to his family. It's a great twist and it's also been mentioned in The X Files Files' podcast discussion of “Kill Switch” – the people who do the right thing and tell the truth frequently face terrible consequences while perpetrators are left untouched.
It adds the level of urgency this film really needs, seeing as how you're watching it all through Roper's eyes. Cutting between four split screens and an occasional Skype window, you see the world as an outsider, an intruder on what's happening. It feels like a tongue-in-cheek take on our voyeuristic lifestyle: here are the machines watching us back.
Truthfully, as bright and timely as Nightmare Code is, it's still a little boring. It's just programmers working frantically on code. It makes sense, it's realistic, their frustrations are valid...but it's still dudes typing for 90 minutes. It is a low-budget film, supported by Indiegogo, I'll give it its limitations. And what is does within those to tell about life outside of this one office is sharp. But....it's still dudes on their computers for 90 minutes.
It's got strong bones and decent acting. While it won't win an Academy Award for writing, this is a good study in how to write a screenplay that fits within budgetary boundaries and adds the human layers needed to a story about technology. With a larger budget and more resources, this would have been a great movie.