Directed by: David Hewlett
Written by: David Hewlett
Starring: Jeananne Goossen, Jason Momoa, Adrian Holmes and Adam Butcher
Running time: 82 Minutes
UK release: 3rd November 2014 from Signature Entertainment
Set in the somewhat-distant future, DEBUG’s story surrounds a team of six convicted hackers trying to reduce their sentences by assisting the government, using their skills to repurpose old and abandoned spaceships for the Department of Corrections. Sounds fun, right?
While on their way home from a routine mission, the team are mysteriously ordered to intercept and repair another ship en route (who doesn’t hate overtime?). The crew lands on the defunct cargo-class ship, only to find that it’s got no power and is riddled with rogue software errors including I Am, the security program who really, really doesn’t want to be deleted.
Cue Cabin Fever as the personal relationships between the team start to implode, with the dialogue between characters giving the as-yet unseen enemy the perfect ammunition to destroy them later.
Any Kubrick fan will stop you right here to point out the notes taken from 2001: A Space Odyssey. From the blindingly white interiors to the epic tracking shots and aggressively apathetic antagonist, this film pays homage to Kubrick’s masterpiece without being limited by it, as it quickly branches off into other directions and styles.
One of the more innovative aspects is the way the film is shot, rapidly flipping between CCTV footage, extreme close ups and a standard camera. So it’s kind of like 2001, if Hal was telling the story instead.
As we’re introduced to the characters that make up the crew, it becomes obvious that they’re standard to the point of cliché, but full marks go to Jeananne Goossen, for her role as Kaida, and Jason Momoa who played the super-crazy security program I Am (fans of GoT will recognise Moama as Khal Drogo). Using the tightly enclosed spaces to full advantage, Hewlett manages to make Debug feel chokingly claustrophobic, as well as using the lighting to give the film, especially the death scenes, a strangely antiseptic feeling, almost as if the violence itself is virtual.
The computer generated graphics, however, can be very hit-and-miss . The opening credits, for example, follow a fantastically made CGI sequence as it jumps to and fro between blood cells, but later in the film an escape shuttle is destroyed using imaging we would expect from television in the eighties.
As well as this, some scenes feel painfully inauthentic. At one point, when a rogue piece of code is deliberately uploaded to the computer system, the audience is shown a visual representation of the script physically fighting with a virtual I Am in a Matrix-style battle. Although the action sequences are done well, you question the plausibility of a virus trying to kill an operating system using only Katanas and a stun gun.
What this film really gives us is a new spin on an old setup. The sentient AI has been done before, the characters and locations are all comfortingly familiar, but it is the way that the elements are mixed and matched that makes it feel new.
The high point of the film, however, is Kaida. Goossen’s performance is strong, but for the first time since Ripley we’ve got a female protagonist who really kicks ass. All of the male characters look to her for support and, although she does have to use her wiles to outwit the program, she also takes on her attackers with choke holds and drop kicks. Moama’s performance as the sociopathic computer is also worth pointing out. He takes I Am, who’s idea of a good time is drowning someone in toilet waste, and turns him into a charming psychopath who you can’t empathise with but is still really fun to watch.
Overall, the film is well written, well acted and (mostly) well made, but it is lacking the scares required to really call it a horror. It’s more about the fight for survival against impossible odds and leads to a conclusion that is satisfying if somewhat predictable. Although it does suffer from an absence of terror, cookie-cutter characters and an easily guessable ending, Hewlett’s clever re-writing of known horror elements give us hope that we might be seeing a lot more of him in the future.