Nightmare Code — Capsule Review

Andrew J. West in a scene from Mark Netter's Nightmare Code.
Andrew J. West in a scene from Mark Netter’s Nightmare Code.


“By the time we have reached act three, the screenplay has escaped the bounds of reasonability… [but] even the most ridiculous plot twists seem to be thought out to an extent.”

by Ken B.

One of the biggest things I noticed about Mark Netter’s Nightmare Code is how rapidly the movie increases its disregard for reality. By the time we have reached act three, the screenplay has escaped the bounds of reasonability and transformed into a kind of supernatural horror the first two thirds did not even suggest was possible. While this has the unfortunate problem of establishing an inconsistency of tone from one part of the film to the next, it’s also indicative of a key ambition, as even the most ridiculous plot twists seem to be thought out to an extent. Maybe 89 minutes was too short, and perhaps another quarter-hour could have fleshed out the proceedings, and made everything a bit more explicable.

Brett Desmond (Andrew J. West) is a twentysomething programmer who is called to a start-up in Chicago. The company has a potentially game-changing project and a tragic past. Their previous CEO, an eccentric man named Foster Cotton (an excellently over-the-top Googy Gress) had created an enormous computer program called Roper, which has the ability to capture footage of people’s faces and dissect their emotions and thought processes with a single glance. The intent of the software is to predict future actions, particularly criminal, and hopefully stop them. The problem is that there seems to be a sinister force which controls the user, wielding significant power, so much so that one day, the increasingly disliked Foster spontaneously brings a gun to the office and takes out a handful of his colleagues before blowing his brains out. A few of the surviving employees have agreed to return, and Brett has been brought on to lead the team. But how will access to the omnipotent program affect him? And in turn, will Roper endanger Brett’s co-workers, his wife (Caitlyn Folley), daughter (Isabella Cuda), and himself?

Shot almost entirely through grainy webcams and split-screen closed circuit footage, Nightmare Code establishes an aesthetic of surveillance-induced paranoia, which is one of the few constant themes it entertains throughout the entirety of its runtime. West is a convincing leading man, but he doesn’t do much with the character of Brett to make his performance or role especially stand out. Netter has a great deal of fun in playing with his story elements, manipulating them to caricaturish degrees, often at the cost of plot coherence. Ostensibly, the film plays as a decently acted and brightly shot thriller, with a cyclonic storyline which abruptly evolves from a commentary on the newfound 21st century realities of Big Brother to a rather forced ghost story-ish angle out of nowhere, complete with a horror movie finale. Netter has chops as a filmmaker, but perhaps he’s better served at bringing someone else’s screenplay to life, at least for the time being.

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