The Horror Honeys: 2001: A SPACE WANNABE

2001: A SPACE WANNABE

A Sci-Fi Honey New Release Review by Katie

Debug (2015)

From the blue-tinted corridors of a deep space vessel comes yet another sci-fi parable about the menace lurking within the proverbial “ghost in the machine” – a self-aware AI that possesses a spacecraft and wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting crew. Think you’ve seen this before? For the most part, you probably have. The experiment here is what writer/director David Hewlett attempts to do differently than countless genre films that preceded his new indie cyber horror, Debug. As a low-budget production populated with stock characters and recycled ideas, Hewlett’s attempt at a 2001/Event Horizon rehash is unlikely to be considered a new classic, even as the filmmaker’s affinity for this particular genre makes every effort to shine through.

Debug’s luckless ‘heroes’ are a gang of felons serving time for computer crimes who are assigned a correctional work detail removing malicious software from the operating system of spaceships. One such ship – a cargo unit that is, of course, eerily abandoned – is controlled by a rogue program known as I AM. As they split up to search and debug the ship, I AM appears to each of the convicts in a variety of glitchy forms to mess with their heads, both figuratively and literally. Personified by Game of Thrones’ Jason Momoa, I AM is Debug’s low-grade answer to HAL 9000 – though Momoa’s absurdly hammy performance makes I AM more akin to something from MST3K than Kubrick’s 2001. One by one the crew is picked off or driven mad, and it is up to badass hacker chick Kaida (Jeananne Goosen) to insert herself into the virtual reality of the ship and cyber-battle Momoa’s bioware bully.

A better movie would be: Khal Drogo in Space

While he’s relatively inexperienced behind the camera, prolific British-Canadian actor Hewlett is no stranger to sci-fi: appearing in nearly a hundred films including Scanners II (1991), Cube (1997) and Splice (2009), as well as the Stargate: Atlantis series, the man has decades of genre experience under his belt. His obvious love for sci-fi is visible in the intention of the film – from visual allusions to well-known classics to the exploration of overarching themes of the genre – though the execution leaves much to be desired. Still, Hewlett should be praised for utilizing a diverse set of actors who represent a broad cross section of gender, race, and intellectual ability, and putting them in some circumstances that haven’t quite been done to death in the oft-hackneyed ‘haunted spaceship’ setting.

Must be warm on that spaceship.
Despite his best efforts, however, Hewlett’s ode to the genre he loves suffers from more missteps than successes. The most glaring omission from Debug that is present in all the films it imitates is any believable sense of dread, terror, or atmosphere. Last month’s Australian indie sci-fi Infini also drew heavily on Event Horizon in particular, but that film had considerably more going for it in terms of tone and mood alone. Hewlett’s spaceship is sparse and brightly lit, and the effects resemble something along the lines of a slightly more sophisticated SyFy original. There are no genuinely frightening moments, and I AM has no discernible motive or profound impact as a formidable villain. The final showdown between the hero and antagonist plays out like the climax of a made-for-tv cyber-action movie, lacking any real suspense or emotional gravitas. By the time the credits roll you’ll feel as though you just went through a mildly entertaining but ultimately underwhelming cinematic experience.

Hackers of the future, beware.
The reality of the sci-fi/horror subgenre is that you would be hard-pressed to find a modern film set on a spaceship that doesn’t recall 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, or Event Horizon in some way. The trick is to find that right balance of familiarity and originality that first piques the interest of a conventional sci-fi fan and then challenges them with a new perspective on some well-worn subject matter. Constrained by a miniscule budget and the enduring resonance of all the similar projects that came before it, Debug could’ve used some extensive reprogramming to achieve the greatness that Hewlett had in mind.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Two evil rogue computers out of five.

Debug is available on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, VOD,
& DVD/blu-ray

Will you be watching Drago in Space?
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