In Debug, six young computer hackers are sent to work on a derelict space freighter as a part of a work release program. They quickly fall prey to the ship’s vengeful artificial intelligence, a program that would kill to be human. They are helpless to defend themselves as it silently roots out their deepest desires to use against them in the most imaginative and horrific ways. It takes a very determined and brilliant hacker, Kaida (Goossen), to battle this malevolent entity and send it back to cyber hell.
Combining scifi with horror has always been a mixed bag of results; when they work, it’s delicious (Alien, The Thing), and when they don’t it can make you angry (Event Horizon). Debug falls somewhere in between, and makes you wonder what the movie could have been with a slightly different take in a few areas.
First, the set design and the integration of the HUD shots is nicely done. It’s easy to see how much the movie 2001 influenced much of the futuristic look of the ship’s command modules. It also sets up a relatively out-of-place depiction of the ship’s deep interiors, which look like they’d be more suited to a film about a disaster on a freighter-tanker. It’s not quite clear if that was to be used to generate more horror deeper into the story, but it wasn’t fully used to that effect.
Second, the characters didn’t quite resonate with each other or with me enough to get me engaged. We are pushed into following Kaida as she realizes what the AI is up to and she rushes to find a solution to pull her teammates out of a situation she got them into, but many of those situations fall cold. In fact, the one character who’d begun to stand out as being a unique personality (Diondra) was eliminated in a rather sudden and brutal fashion just as I’d begun looking forward to how she’d plan her counter-attack after being suckered by the AI.
Jason Momoa as the avatar of the AI was an interesting choice, and he manages to pull off menacing very well with his physical presence in many scenes, but in scenes where he’s only verbally intimidating or undermining the team, turning the tables on them after they’ve linked themselves to the ship and digging secrets out of their memories to torment them don’t measure up to the physical tricks… what is meant to ratchet up the suspenseful tension merely comes across as annoying taunts.
The climactic battle between high-level hacker and aberrant AI concludes in a confusing manner, a team effort instead of a one-on-one, but nothing was ever mentioned of the other hackers on the team having the same ability that Kaida said made her the most powerful adversary for the AI. How the others were able to manifest themselves that same way and help Kaida was something that needed to be demonstrated or explained a little more clearly.
I watched the movie a second time to see if perhaps I’d missed a few things, but even a second viewing couldn’t resolve that nagging feeling that something was missing from the final film. Additionally, the fact that I did watch it a second time is a clear indicator that it’s not a horrible movie, just one that fails to completely engage on all levels.
And as a bonus, you can listen to an interview writer/director David Hewlett (Stargate: Atlantis) did with Slice of SciFi about the process of writing the story and getting the movie made. It’s an interesting look behind the curtains of making an indie film from an industry veteran’s perspective, and perhaps some of the stumbling blocks David ran into while making the movie are some of the same ones I ran into while watching the movie.
Debug (Release Date: June 9, 2015)
Actors: Adam Butcher, Jeananne Goossen, Adrian Holmes, Jason Momoa
Directors: David Hewlett
Run Time: 85 minutes