Nightmare Code Interview with Mark Netter Pt. 1

Recently, PPF and SeedyReview got a chance to sit down with Mark Netter, the director of Nightmare Code, and talked in depth about Nightmare Code and horror movies in general. The podcast can be listened to over at PPF.

You can also go here and read the Seedy Review of Nightmare Code.

Nightmare Code can be watched over at Steam, Vimeo, and many other streaming services and is definitely worth checking out.

PPF: We have MARK NETTER, the director of Nightmare Code, and we actually get to talk to him about the nature of movie and what his intent was. So, where you from?

MARK: Oh gosh, originally I’m from my outside of Albany New York, a town called Delmar New York. I’m actually happy to say that this past month we did a hometown screening in Albany, and we got a great turnout.

PPF: Awesome, did everyone like the movie?

MARK: Yeah, they seem to. It’s funny because a lot of them were my parents friends. We actually had the oldest average age audience. Because the movie has a kind of interesting visual style where for at least half the movie we’re using four images at once on a surveillance monitor and I really wondered how it would play out. If people see it in their teens or 20s they got no problem. I have kids that are 12 and 15. They watched TV with a devices in their hands. But believe it or not, it went really really well.
We got a tremendous set of questions in the Q&A afterwards and great compliments, and I think it worked.

PPF: And we really I enjoyed it, as well.

MARK: Thank you so much.

PPF: We think it’s always fun to explore the antagonist, especially when it comes to Horror. So, maybe start off talking about the AI and explore that a little?

MARK: Sure, let me take you back to the original concept. The whole movie grew out of an initial concept which was when I worked in the video game industry years ago. I am not a programmer. The movie takes place in a troubled startup trying to finish this behavior recognition program called Roper, and it’s called Roper because it ropes in all the video in the area. We came with an acronym for it as well, but it’s not as interesting. and I actually been put on the spot to come up with that and I kinda forget the whole thing.
What was interesting was the idea that before I started in the business I thought if you had two programmers of similar skill and gave them a task to perform, like creating elevator programmer or a calendar app, that the code would look side-by-side 90% similar maybe 95%. It turns out it’s not true at all. Any programmer will tell you that different programmers solve problems different ways and build things differently. What that means is that deep inside of your programs in your computer, your phone, the DOS kernel that’s hidden inside Windows, which goes back to the late 70s early 80s, there is the personality of a programmer that expresses logic, just like a film-maker would be expressed in shots and editing and music choices and things like that. Our idea was well what if that logic and personality were sentient and what if it was extremely pissed off? That was the core idea behind Nightmare Code.
Then I guess the antagonist in the movie is really the program, ROPER. They’re desperately trying to finish it, but it doesn’t seem to want to be finished. The program is writing its own code. Then there’s some question as to whether or not the original architect of the of the program was an old programmer from the old days, a guy named Foster Cotton and this is gonna be his last hurrah. As you learn during the movie and before the movie starts, Cotton had gone on a murder suicide rampage at the start-up. He started killing the top executives who he felt was lying to him about certain things. Then he kills himself.
The question as the movie goes on is whether or not this code is taking on a greater intelligence. Not only can it recognize people’s behaviors and interpret what they’re thinking and feeling, but it is sort of modifying the behavior and starting to resemble those who are closest to the programmers working on it, as well as resemble that of the dead programmer. The question is are you just dealing with a super brilliant artificial intelligence that Cotton created? Or, Did Cotton’s personality or soul in some way enter the machine, and is he the true antagonist that you’re up against. Hopefully with the movie you’ll have an opinion But I hope it’s also ambiguous enough that it’s something you could argue about or discuss afterwards.

PPF: In my reading, when he became part of the computer he lost his humanity. Is that what your intent was? Once you digitize yourself, you lose your physical form and some aspects of your humanity?

MARK: I love that. You know, it’s funny like a part of me is the film-maker and I don’t want to give you all the answers. But I think what you’re bringing up are incredibly great questions to explore.
So, here’s a couple different things about it. One of them, is there is a good question of why Cotton is so bitter and so angry that he’s being betrayed that this program is being outsourced and that other people will be finishing it. You know, if his soul does enter the machine or he programs his soul into the machine in some way which I wanted it as, I tend to lean more toward your camp although not all of the people who worked on the movie would agree with you. Maybe that it is just an anger that just continues on.
I love this idea about the loss of humanity because of what the title Nightmare Code is actually inspired by. To me, it has three different meanings. One of them is obviously working on computer code that’s very difficult. Sometimes programmers are brought on to work on someone else’s code. Those programmers will always say that the code is written really badly. They’ll say it’s spaghetti code, it’s all over the place, or in our case it’s Nightmare Code. It’s also reference to one my favorite film noir. It is a really dark movie called Nightmare Alley. I’m gratified to see if you do a search on Amazon for Nightmare Code usually Nightmare Alley is right after it. I even took a screen shot of it. Then, the third thing is the idea that I think all movies are about codes of behavior and that at some level you figure out in the first 5 to 20 minutes of the movie who are the good guys who are the bad guys and why are they good. Depending on the type of movie, you may be rooting for the mafia guy who is the better one of the mafia guys. You might be rooting for Clint Eastwood out there killing people. I think that you know the set of values and codes. I think that what Nightmare Code is kind of saying is that the human codes of behavior, those things that for centuries bound us together, are being loosened or changed. Maybe our humanity, like you’re saying, in the characters are metaphors for being lost because of our interactions with technology.
The example that I like giving is; all these guys who think that somehow they are going to get away with cheating on their spouses by going on AshleyMadison.com. Until the day that, just like Roper, Ashley Madison betrays them and their names are released to the public. Not AshleyMadison itself but the hackers who manipulated the technology. For example, in the movie the main character is Brett Desmond who is this young programmer that is brought in after Foster’s done this horrible act. He’s the one guy, the one programmer left in the office trying to fix it. He’s sleeping in the office. He’s away from home. He is desperate to help finish this because of problems in his own past. He’ll be on Skype or a video chat with his wife and daughter who’re halfway across the country in Chicago. The great thing just like with our Skype call right now is technology enables us to be connected in ways that we never could prior to the existence of things like Skype. By that same token, it can also be very distancing and can provide the sense of “well, they’re really over there, so it doesn’t matter what I do over here”. Or, it can provide a sense of loneliness. They can engender a sense of loneliness that I can say good night to my kid but I can’t kiss her, I can’t give her a hug or I can’t be sleeping in bed with my wife. Sometimes I think technology can emphasize that sense of loneliness. I really do think we’re asking the question is technology not only getting beyond our control but is it changing the way we behave. Is it loosening those bonds.

PPF: The one that we really dug about this movie was that your protagonist wasn’t a clean-cut character. He wasn’t your traditional protagonists. He wasn’t a hero. We have seen this guy before in the real world.

MARK: I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to reveal that this past him to be involved in some sort of whistleblowing. I think it’s a good question as to whether or not that was a good or bad thing to do. I mean, there is obviously laws that he is broken and things that he’s in hot water for. Supposedly if he helps finish this program, everything will be okay. I think the tragedy of Nightmare Code is Brett Desmond. He is played by Andrew J Wester who did a great job. People, and your fans may know from The Walking Dead where he played Garrison in Terminus.
This guy is a brilliant programmer and in a sense he is the best guy for this job, but the question the movie asks is can anybody beat technology, can anyone beat ROPER? Even the best guy… to avoid giving away the movie but it takes a pretty dark view.
There are also things in his personality that we want to be kind of R-rated, you know? You don’t know if he’s completely good or completely bad. I mean, there’s this way he’s somewhat dismissive when he’s talking to his Indian counterpart. He’s the company our optics is now outsourced almost all the programming to except for Brett over to India. There’s some moments he is dishonest. He doesn’t particularly take good care of himself. He is using some chemicals to stay awake at work late nights. I just like that because I think most of us and believe we’re good people but everybody’s got some sort of secret. Everybody’s got different sides to them depending on the situation, certainly depending on the amount of pressure you’re put under.

PPF: Would you say knowledge is one of the corrupting factors in this story?

MARK: You know that’s kinda like a real Adam and Eve thing, right? It’s like the whole idea that the Apple was knowledge and that somehow they got the knowledge of their nakedness and then suddenly down comes the garden or they were kicked out of the garden. I think that’s really kind of interesting idea.
We were kinda going with the idea with Cotton. That you never know who’s watching you. I think we live lives now where even in private we have to be careful of what were doing isn’t being publicized in some fashion. Since we started working on the movie and telling people about it, other people tell me that they cover up the camera on their laptop or their computer. Unless they want to be seen and they flip-up a piece of cardboard, but they keep it covered.
But, I think you’re kinda right in a way. I think it’s kind of a cool horror movie thing to write. The the familiar classic horror idea is Bluebeard. Bluebeard gets his young wife and says, “you can go to any place in my home you like. I’m going out on a business trip or hunting trip or whatever it is just don’t go in to that room, okay? If you stay out of that room everything will be okay, and of course she goes into that room. She finds mutilated previous wife corpses. She drops the key. The key gets blood on it. She can’t get the blood off. She comes out. She thinks that she’s okay and locks the door. Bluebeard comes home and within five minutes he knows that she’s been in there and that’s going to be curtains for her. So I think that’s kind of our horror idea of be careful what you want to know. Maybe that’s our way of doing it in Nightmare Code.
Also, if you’re an audience member, you know that the way we kind of ended up showing what happened and the actual massacre that Foster did is we find out when Brett does. Brett gets onto Foster’s computer because he has to at a certain point look for previous builds because his old and new ones are getting corrupted. He finds the videos that Foster has saved on his computer around and even after Foster’s death. The one that Brett finds one that’s a whole point of view sequence for Foster going to the office and basically extracting his revenge on people. Each time he comes across somebody, it’s in a sensor of ROPER. The technology is making a decision and you see it based on how they’re interpreted with it whether they’re friendly or whether they’re angry or they are somebody that Foster is gonna want to kill or not. He makes his decisions about who he’s going to pick off and who he is not going to pick off. To some people who are fans of the movie it is a sense of justice. They almost agree with him about his choices which is crazy, but I think that what is really fun for the audience is you’re kind of seeing it go through Foster’s eyes and are also seen through Brett’s eyes, because he’s watching it at the same time and getting just as shocked as you are. Then you’re watching through your own eyes as well, so you’re getting a triple vision going on. There’s a lot of knowledge coming at you very very quickly.

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Black Mass (2015)

BlackMass

Many people have been waiting for Johnny Depp to shed his Jack Sparrow persona and return to the world of acting. Although Black Mass delivered his long over due performance, that wasn’t all Scott Cooper delivered. Johnny Depp equally shares the screen with Joel Edgerton, who delivered a performance that was full of range and believability. In particular, Edgerton portrayal of John Connolly is always able to gain great sympathy from the audience, even when the character was the most despicable or self righteous.

The story itself may have been slow or less kinetic than what the movie audience has grown to expect from gangster movies. However, this is not a bad thing. The plot is organic, and although it is all being told through interviews and interrogations, each piece evolves naturally. There’s never a time when one is left scratching their heads over leaps of logic. There is a part of the movie where Johnny Depp’s character, Whitey, explains to his son that, “If nobody saw you do it, then it didn’t happen”. This phrase is part of Cooper’s meticulously crafted movie. Through out the movie, one may notice that Whitey never appears in a scene by himself. Therefore, there isn’t a time where we see Whitey’s express his inner turmoil or hear long voice over monologues. This isn’t to say there aren’t opportunities where we could have been clued in, yet we don’t witness the personal transformation of Whitey. Instead, Cooper puts us in the witness’ chair. Not only does this technique help remind us this is story compiled through interviews and research, but also it forces the audience to only focus on the crimes Whitey committed. After all, that is why we know who Whitey is in the first place. Watching him grieve over the loss of his family would have helped further develop the character, but it would have also distracted us from this movie’s intent. That is why Depp was perfect for this role. Depp has an amazing talent of embodying his character to the point where we don’t need exposition and back story to understand his role.

In a relatively short career, this being Cooper’s third directed movie, he has shown us that he is confident in his actors as well as himself and even the audience. There’s never a moment where we feel he had to dumb things down to hold our attention. Black Mass simply flows with a natural rhythm that feels right for the story he is telling.

Nightmare Code (2014)

NIGHTMARECODE

Nightmare Code is part of the Techno Horror genre that takes aim at the dangers of AI or technological dependancy while captivating the audience with unnerving tension balanced with twitch style editing.

The Techno Horror genre flourished in the early nineties with movies like Lawnmower Man or franchises like Terminator or Cyborg. However, due to budget restraints or poor execution the genre quickly went dormant. After all, this was a genre where it was ok to hit stop before the final act. Twenty years later, society has AI on the horizon and is struggling with its addiction to technology. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise the Techno Horror genre is being revitalized. Nightmare Code is one of the newest additions to the genre.

Largely, it’s shot and edited together, and using fixed camera perspectives giving us the illusion of watching everything through security cameras or webcams. Often, each scene cycles through a four-panel grid giving the audience a lot of information to digest. The pacing of these scenes and edits keeps our eyes glued to the screen absorbing every detail looking for clues. In addition, the panels are often out of chronological sequence with one another. The camera will also focus on protagonists and points of interests. This creates the unsettling revelation that everything we’re seeing is subjective, and someone or something is behind our monitor’s controls. This is much similar to My Little Eye where the audience becomes voyeurs while trying to unravel the who-done-it mystery.

Because of the unforgiving nature of the camera style, it’s unfair to assess the actors’ performances. There are times that the acting seems awkward or comical because of the camera’s high-low direction. On the other hand, much of the script’s character development is done through philosophical dialogue, which can go from thought provoking to superfluous in a single breath. That isn’t to say all the characters aren’t well done. This movie provided the antagonist with an original and very eery character arc. One of the highlights of the film was when it put us in the POV of the antagonist, Foster, via techno sunglasses and is able to provide a jaded understanding for the character.

The movie juggled a lot of paranoid themes against technology and it struggled to focus on just one. However, it decided to settle upon society’s desire to become immortalized through our technological avatars and the willingness to sacrifice our real lives and our connection to everyone around us. Although Nightmare Code’s final act stumbled with pacing, struggled with its lofty idea, and broke its camera style, it was able to push the audience to a satisfactory finish.

Human Centipede (2009)

In 2009 Tom Six released HCa film everyone knows, few have watched, and nobody wants to see. Human Centipede reminds us of the exploitation era of the seventies where films like Last House on the Left, Cannibal Holocaust and Salo were considered too shocking to watch. Unlike other modern Torture Porn movies like Hostel II or the Saw franchise, Human Centipede slows the pacing down thereby dancing on the razor’s edge between body horror and torture porn.
Is it sadistic or entertaining to watch? It is definitely entertaining. One can’t ignore the deliberate framing and composition of every shot. This isn’t a shaky cam running through a film makers sadistic imagination. From scenes of deep green’s and reds to warm amber tones, we view Tom Six painting with colors and always directing our visual focus. This even includes using paintings of bloody siamese twins. It’s pleasing when we can tell we’re moving to the next sequence simply due to a detailed shot composition.
The story focuses on Dr. Heiter, a sadistically evil doctor of Nazi proportions. Dieter Laser’s performance of Dr. Heiter is beyond extraordinary. His body language is so masterful there are times we can see rage boiling beneath his skin. One of the truly terrifying moments is when he is coaxing Ashley C. Williams’ character, Lindsay, out of her hiding place. His life is dedicated to realizing his fantasy of creating conjoined creatures, such as siamese twins or a Human Centipede, and that is the premise. A body horror premise that is so simple but it carries enough weight to gross out and scare people away from ever watching it. Yes, there is definitely a moment one may pause and wonder if it’s the Deep Throat for those with the scatological fetish. Maybe, it would be if it lacked the previously mentioned technical skill and the theme wasn’t about pain.
The theme is where we edge back against the torture porn. The genre isn’t about the actual infliction of pain and suffering. Rather, it’s about isolation and submission. Them not being able to fight back or has any power to stop their conjoined fate is terrifying. Then, when reality starts to settle in, we realize this self proclaimed doctor lacks the ability to successfully pull off this experiment. This is one of the most mature aspects of the writing. When we begin, we’re given an absurdist movie, there’s a shot of a guy mourning his three conjoined dogs, and we visit the lives of the two melodramatic girls. However, as the story progresses, we see the colors fade into a sterile white and the operation becomes more documentary style. There’s an unnerving scene of the doctor formally explaining their procedure while an unmic actor screams in the background giving it more of that “this could happen to you” tone.
Although our victims go to a point of no return, our catharsis is delivered because of Dr. Heiter’s ego. After he takes on godhood, we watch his ego stumble and become careless. One could easily imagine all the problems going wrong with this doctor’s conjunction and procurement of victims. However, there are no quick endings in this tale of madness, for not even a bullet to the head promises a quick death. In the end, the slower pacing made sure this movie never pushed to extreme shock, and the high production quality and great performances continue to make it a horror that shouldn’t be ignored.

The One About Friends

Boys-of-Friends

At the surface level, friends is a decade long sitcom about a group of friends. However, like many tv shows today, this series cleverly builds itself from a very long series of non-sequitur jokes. Although its plot and characters developed overtime, like Cheers, it still felt light hearted, like a sitcom. However, unlike a sitcom such as Home Improvement, the characters actually grew and progressed over the series. After a few seasons, this became a herculean feat. The entire series was based around the whole concept of how can the writers and cast keep a joke going for as long as humanly possible while concurrently developing and progressing the characters and the plot. Some of the punchlines are so ridiculous that some of the scenes could work just as well as skits on SNL. However, unlike SNL the creators have to commit to every ridiculous skit and make it canon. Consequently, this is why there were many awkward references to incest.
Regardless, that’s not to say that Friends doesn’t take on a serious tone. The infamous Ross and Rachel break-up was so soberingly realistic it plunged us into the Uncanny Valley, and it was so memorable that the show kept reminding the audience that the relationship only occurred during season 2. Yet, to this day the Rachel and Ross relationship is recalled as being one of the most prevalent themes. Some of you may be thinking, “wait a minute didn’t those two have a child together”? Yes, but the two hooking up was a one night stand which occurred off screen.
Now, this brings us to another interesting aspect of the show. It was admirable how the creators would often not show us plot points. Usually, the most important plot points would take from half to one full season to set up, but when we finally arrive at that critical moment it would cut to a commercial break and we would often be treated to the aftermath. It’s like watching a comedian spend a good portion of his time setting up a joke and then to be told we know what’s going to happen and just skipping over the punchline. In hindsight this is very ballsy for a series who built its entire show around non-sequiturs which end with the most improbable or insane outcomes. Yet, the staff wield these characters so incredibly well that the audience always feels their story is developing naturally, albeit sometimes schizophrenically. In fact, the only disagreeable part of the show would stem from the Joey character. LeBlanc’s character had several interesting subplots which could have shifted the status quo of the show. However, by the time we reach the series finale, Joey became a static character who didn’t progress or develop. So, it makes a lot of sense why his character would be chosen to go on to a short lived spinoff series. Also, by season ten, the show became a parody of itself and it was a smart idea to cap it off. It would have been dreadful to carry this show any further.
Thanks to the great ground work Friends has done, brilliant shows like 30 Rock, Parks & Rec, and It’s Always Sunny have adopted and refined the Friends formula for our continued enjoyment. It’s been ten years since the series concluded, and its comedy has held up remarkably well. This is due to the fact that Friends was the prototype for today’s Modern SitCom.

Powers: Pilot (2015)

Powers tv

The pilot for Powers is an immaculate, paint-by-numbers, antihero, melodrama. Being a fan of Bendis for a better part of my life, it has been exciting to know one of his creator owned property will be officially adapted. However, I am not sure this is the adaptation I’ve been waiting for.
First of all, the production design is a little too sterile looking. Even when the scene takes place in an abandoned and tagged warehouse, everything looks like it has been neatly decorated. There’s another scene which takes place at a squatter house which could easily be mistaken for a million dollar nightclub. This set design is accompanied by the overdone CGI of the powers scenes. However, the CGI clearly lacks the same budget and the production quality of Agents of SHIELD. Thus, they should have focused more on practical effects. Although Arrow reshoots its action sequences in the same warehouse district countless times, it still adds to the grounded realism which Powers so far lacks.
The acting is very well done by the entire cast. However, the dialogue and plot don’t compliment the acting. The lines are often mediocre that the well acted lines come off sounding melodramatic, which sadly distracts from the scene. The clearest example is when we meet Eddie Izzard’s Wolf character. Thankfully, Susan Heyward’s ability to shoot wit and sarcasm out of Deena Pilgrim’s mouth keeps the dialogue entertaining.
The plot itself is the same one we have all seen in any antihero cop show. This is completed with the hungover and half naked protagonist contemplating his inner demons while staring out the window. However, this time not only do we get the loss of a partner trope, but also we get the loss of superpowers. In fact, the writers just keep merrily skipping through each noir trope without skipping a beat. Yet, when we peel back that nonsense, we’re left with a plot which focuses on a protagonist, Christian Walker, who is suffering through identity loss and suicidal depression. That could be interesting when flavored with superpowers.
In the comicbook world, the reason why the subgenre which comprise of comics like Powers, Wanted, SEX, Kick Ass and many others is because their subject matter often deals with issues not commonly discussed in the superhero genre. With the proliferation of the Superhero genre in movies and tv, it seemed like a good time for Powers to come out. However, the only original aspect of this show is Walker gets his powers taken away, yet that is a very small part of this show.
Nevertheless, I am only referring to the freely available pilot. It could very well evolve and progress further with the characters and the story. But, there are already other superhero shows which are more widely available which have a firmer grasp on the superhero niche. So far, the only ones who will seek out Powers are comic geeks, like yours truly, or PS fanboys. Otherwise, it’s hard to see why one who only knows about superheros through Agents or Arrow to seek this title out.

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