Hiding behind the stylised exterior of Mark Netter’s high concept dark thriller Nightmare Code is a supernatural science fiction horror film fighting to get out. That Netter controls these forces is very much the strength of the film, but also leads to a finale that may not satisfy all audiences.
Brett Desmond (Andrew J. West) is a hotshot computer programmer with a shady past brought in by a desperate software company to finish the work of a genius programmer who went rogue, killing several of his colleagues. As he tries to figure a way through the dead ends and unpredictable code he discovers that the advanced behaviour recognition program may harbour more secrets than it is willing to reveal.
From a position somewhere near that of the paranoia many people feel about a “big brother” society, Nightmare Code is a film that revolves around taking the premise to its furthest conclusion. What if the system knew what you were thinking before you did? What if your seemingly innocent behaviour was being analysed and judged? These disturbing concepts provide the base from which the R.O.P.E.R. program of the film is built, a computer intelligence that can immediately ascertain an individual’s apparent intentions before they even realise it themselves, potentially world changing along the lines of Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report, but deeply disturbing when the intelligence of the program takes on a life of its own, infecting the thoughts and decisions of its users.
What Netter has constructed with Nightmare Code is a film that cleverly uses its narrative to avoid the pitfalls of most found footage-type films. With Open Windows, Smiley and a raft of other usually troublesome and similarly-themed releases the justification for the fixed cameras is tolerable if not wholly believable. In focussing on a surveillance system that may or may not have a mind of its own, Nightmare Code avoids such potential pitfalls, harnessing the medium and leading to a tense, sporadic voyeurism that draws you into each scene as you are always left wanting to see more. Only in the final few fraught exchanges do you really get a sense of who or what is exactly where and this mystery adds to the creeping malevolence of the film.
The performances throughout are solid, with the troubled personality delivered by West the lynchpin of the film. Given the restrictive nature of the camera the direction is realistically distant, giving the feeling of simple observation. It is in the editing though that skill is really demonstrated with the time lapses and almost 24-style simultaneous viewpoints adding a surreal element, leaving you never quite sure upon what to concentrate. The finale may be an issue for some, as the film perhaps could have ended sooner but instead seems to want to emphasise points made earlier and with more subtlety. That said Netter resists the temptation to fully let loose and keeps fairly tight reigns on a plot that could easily have become too far fetched.
Nightmare Code is an impressive film that stands above much of the computer-based sub-genre. Netter’s film is stylish and intelligent, focussing as much on what you don’t see as what you do, and will definitely make you look twice at the next surveillance camera you see.