J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Nightmare Code: It’s Worse than Windows Vista

What do you get when you combine Big Brother with the Singularity? A nasty collection of code called ROPER. At least, the program is hopelessly buggy, or is it? The more he understands the surveillance and behavioral prediction program, the more uncomfortable Brett Desmond gets. One way or another, he has some hardcore coding ahead of him in Mark Netter’s Nightmare Code (trailer here), which releases today on DVD.

Normally, Desmond would not take a gig that wasn’t certifiably cool, but he is caught between a rock and a hard place. On his last government job, he had tried to pull a Snowden, but he was caught and prosecuted. So far, the court rulings have not gone his way, but his new employers promise to make everything go away if he can get their roll out back on track. Unfortunately, they were thrown considerably off schedule by the recent “incident.” That is how they refer to the shooting spree and suicide of Foster Cotton, the lead software developer.

In contradiction of all the team’s expectations, ROPER seems to be acting deliberately perverse. Bugs that were presumed fixed several iterations ago start reappearing. Perhaps most ominously, the program’s video analysis starts playing back violent events that never happened. Looking for possible insights, Desmond starts watching Cotton’s journal entries, but what he sees only prompts more questions, as well as the outlandish suspicion Cotton may have transferred his consciousness into ROPER.

As Desmond, The Walking Dead’s Andrew J. West certainly looks like someone who has spent a great deal of time writing code. Mei Melançon (Psylocke in X-Men: the Last Stand) is refreshingly smart and down-to-earth as Desmond’s co-worker and object of adulterous temptation, Nora Huntsman. Alex Cho also perfectly nails the persona and attitudes of stock-optioned Silicon Valley yuppies, but the rest of the tech firm personnel are just standard issue geeks or villains.

What Nightmare Code lacks in logic it makes up in paranoia. “You do not find the bug in the code, the code finds the bug in you,” sounds like a Yakov Smirnov joke, but it is pretty close to where we are now. Sadly, in commercial terms, it probably comes too late. With the only presidential candidate committed to curtailing domestic snooping, Rand Paul, mired at the bottom of the pack, it is pretty clear the professional activist class no longer cares about privacy. Maybe Code will remind a few viewers of their forgotten principles, because the implications of ROPER are pretty terrifying.

On the other hand, Code is about as technically sound as Electric Dreams from the mid-1980s. Seriously, usually one outbreak of mass murder is sufficient to delay a product launch. When the freaky mishaps keep on coming, you have to wonder why anyone still works for this company. On the other hand, Netter’s visual style, especially his use of split screens, nicely reflects Desmond’s increasingly disoriented and distrustful state of mind.

Essentially, Netter takes a shot at turning the NSA’s PRISM system into a horror movie bogeyman. The results are mixed, but provocative. Recommended for lapsed civil libertarians in need of a cerebral scare, Nightmare Code releases today (10/27) on DVD.

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