Brett (Andrew J West) is a computer hacker who needs money, fast. Not only does he have a pretty young wife and daughter to provide for, but he and his best pal Anton (Bret Roberts) are facing prosecution over some previous cyber-naughtiness - and court cases like the one looming over them don't come cheaply.
So when a computer program-developing firm offer Brett a fat paycheck to help fix a problem with a code they've been working on, he's quick to accept the job. It strikes him as a little odd that he's required to stay within a building with no windows while working on the top-secret program, while surveillance cameras monitor his every move. He's holed up with several nerdish colleagues, the only one he initially connects with being hot ex-junkie Nora (Mei Melancon).
It's not long before Brett learns that his predecessor, computer programmer Foster (Googy Gress) went bonkers and shot a bunch of his workmates dead before turning his gun onto himself. The reason? Through archive surveillance tapes, Brett witnesses how the program Foster was working on developing - called R.O.P.E.R. - was worn as a headset and could tell its wearer what emotions people were really feeling. So, when someone greeted you with a warm smile, but really felt nothing but contempt for you, Foster could see that...
Seeing your colleagues being unrelentingly insincere towards you, in a confined environment, was clearly too much for Foster - and he cracked. As Brett works hard on cracking the code, he becomes exposed to the program's capabilities himself - and begins to suspect that Foster's spirit entered the program upon his suicide, thus manipulating it into driving people to commit acts of random violence...
NIGHTMARE CODE is co-written by director Mark Netter and M J Rotondi. They've fashioned a smart, thought-provoking screenplay which not only successfully merges sci-fi and horror genres together, but also raises pertinent questions about the threat of advancing artificial intelligence, whether machines are capable of replacing personalities and the masks we all wear in day-to-day life. There are some interesting subjects being mulled over, and for the most part the script does this cleverly.
Now and then, admittedly, the dialogue gets a little heavy-handed in its philosophising. But those moments are in the minority. Coupled with simple but effective production design, consistent performances and well-drawn characters, NIGHTMARE CODE succeeds as engrossing drama.
I'll confess, I was initially reticent when I first realised the entirety of the film was going to play out either on surveillance cameras or via Skype conversations - especially when a split-screen technique began being employed. But Netter uses these gimmicks wisely, never overplaying any of them. Robert Fernandez's cinematography is meticulous in capturing action from various angles and bringing so much footage together in such a tight manner.
But it's the story and the actors who carry NIGHTMARE CODE. Yes, it has moments of violence, and yes it does progress into Cronenbergian reality/computer-world convergence and become a tad surreal as a result. But in essence it's a very human drama. And, considering its modest $80,000.00 production costs, it does all expertly.
NIGHTMARE CODE comes to region-free DVD via MVD Visual. You'll note from the image at the top of this review that the cover art they've cursed the film with is terrible.
Thankfully, their disc is not.
The film is presented uncut in its original 16x9 widescreen form, and looks great. Shot in HD, it benefits from true flesh tones, warm accurate colours, fine detail and deep blacks.
English 2.0 audio is solid throughout too.
An animated main menu kicks proceedings off on the disc. From there, a static scene selection option allows access to the film via 8 chapters.
Extras begin with an audio commentary track from Netter, West and Melancon. This is a fun chat, fuelled by non-alcoholic wine. There are no pregnant pauses: a mixture of mirth and trivia keep things interesting. We learn that Gress is a veteran actor who was also working as football coach to Netter's son at the time; the secret behind the reason for the occasional pixelated surveillance camera is revealed; West tells us how great it was to have a legitimate reason to wear a Fedora; Netter discusses how 600 special effects were created for the shoot, including ones as subtle as creating a CGI ball.
We get four short featurettes which between them discuss the film's characters, the concept of the fear of technology, the film's production and an explanation of how so many people were used in the final scene (no spoilers here!).
Finally, the film's original 2-minute trailer is decent.
NIGHTMARE CODE is an intelligent, original and well-put-together film. I recommend it.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by MVD Visual|
|see main review|