Horror fandom does not instantly qualify someone to become a horror filmmaker. Clearly, it can be tough for some folks to understand the difference. Watch plenty of horror flicks and you’ll get enough of a sense of the formulas and clichés to feel like you can cobble them together yourself. Unfortunately, that doesn’t actually lead to good genre movies, just tiresome retreads. Take ‘Debug’ for example. Actually, don’t.
The film opens up with one of those high concept gimmicks that must have been easy to pitch: A collection of future prisoners assigned to work as space janitor hackers find themselves on an abandoned ship for their latest digital scrub job. There’s no real need to get bogged down on details like names or traits since they’re all irritatingly dull stock characters such as the dork, the slut, the tough girl, the drug addict, etc. We slowly discover who all these one-note clichés are as they explore the abandoned ship, which might be creepy if it weren’t such a cheap white Apple Store inspired mess that would have been difficult to accept in the 1960s. Eventually, it’s learned that the entire crew of the ship was killed off by a rogue computer program (played by Jason Momoa, because why not?). Since all the people in this future world have computers plugged right into their brains, Momoa has reality-altering Freddy Kruger potential when it comes time for the blood to hit the floor.
So that’s what we’re looking at, an incredibly generic and lazy slasher movie that seems to think tossing in a science fiction setting will somehow kick some fresh life into a dead horse. From the embarrassingly cheap CGI of the opening shots, it’s clear that we’re in Syfy network territory, and things don’t get much better as the running time wears on. The actors are all model beautiful and completely wooden, though to be fair the script gives them nothing to work with. They’re merely lambs heading out to slaughter
Even when blood starts to spill, things don’t get much more exciting. Momoa brings a gaping black hole of charisma to his techno-slasher role despite his surrealistic murder methods and quippy one-liners. He poses more than acts and spits out his dialogue in monotone that could theoretically be misinterpreted as an attempt to seem like an emotionless computer program, but is actually just bad acting. Sure, he dismembers some folks and whips up some hallucinogenic nightmares, but budgetary and imagination limitations prevent them from ever making much impact. At best, the kills are just dreary dismemberments. At worst, they come across as troublingly rapey. There’s not much fun to be found here, even for desperate horror fans.
By the time the climax arrives and space heroine Jeananne Goossen digitizes herself to battle Momoa in cyberspace, writer/director David Hewland can’t seem to decide what type of knockoff B-movie he wants to make anymore. The final battle includes space suit shenanigans with horrible CGI/green-screen and a samurai sword wielding Goossen in a virtual landscape. It’s embarrassing, like seeing a 13-year-old’s first screenplay produced on a cable TV movie scale that can’t possibly match the meager ambitions of the script.
‘Debug’ is an absolutely dreadful genre exercise that might be forgivable as a film school assignment by youngsters who don’t know any better, but it’s a giant thud of a failure when spat out by professionals. Even at a trim 86 minutes, it feels like a lifetime passes before the credits mercifully roll. That’s a bit of a problem for a subtext-free B-movie striving for pure entertainment. There’s a reason why the slasher movie died out and the punishing experience of suffering through the motions of ‘Debug’ serves as a perfect example of why slice ‘n dice pictures went away. Perhaps one day, slasher movies will make a comeback, but that’ll take some genre ingenuity, not the contemporary equivalent of direct-to-video trash like this steaming mess.