One of the surprising breakthrough hits on Netflix during the coronavirus shutdown is: Code 8, a Canadian science fiction film that was funded entirely through a crowdfunding campaign. It is set in an alternate timeline in the 1990s, where people with superhuman powers face severe discrimination and economic hardship. But this is not a cheap rip off of the X-Men franchisee. Code 8 is a smart, gritty, techno-noir thriller that’s equal parts X-Men, District 9and classic heist movies (Ben Affleck’s The city probably comes closest in tone and themes).
(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)
Directed by Jeff Chan, Code 8 began life as a short teaser film of the same name produced by cousins Robbie Amell (star of the upcoming upload) and Stephen Amell (Arrow) in 2016. They launched an Indiegogo fundraiser that year to create an expanded version, quickly raising $2.4 million. By December of last year, when the film was officially released, they had raised a total of $3.4 million, with the additional funds to cover promotion and distribution costs, as well as perks for the more than 30,000 individual contributors (many of whom are named in the very long credits series). The film only grossed $150,000 in theaters, but has found a second life on Netflix, where it currently ranks in the top ten in viewership.
An opening montage explains the film’s premise with deft strokes. So-called “Powers” emerged at the beginning of the 20th century and soon have to register their abilities with the government. “Electricity” has electrokinetic abilities, “Pyros” can control fire, Brawns have super strength, “Readers” can read minds, “TKs” are telekinetics, and so on. Initially, Powers are key figures in the economy, helping to build Lincoln City (aka the “City of Tomorrow”) – at least until the rise of mechanization in a Second Industrial Revolution ousts them from their once valuable jobs. .
By the 1990s, Powers are essentially second-class citizens, forced to make a living by taking random work from the books. Many turn to crime out of necessity. A powerful syndicate known as The Trust markets a new drug known as Psyke, derived from Powers’ spinal fluid. Meanwhile, the Lincoln City government debates the implementation of a new law banning Powers entirely, as a police force reliant on drones, facial recognition, and armed Android “Guardians” attempts to stamp out the Psyke trade.
That’s the big picture, but Code 8 is all about the personal stories, especially the story of Connor Reed (Robbie Amell), a young Class 5 Electric who tries to raise enough money to have a life-saving surgery for his mother Mary (Kari Matchett), whose brain tumor causes, to pay. her to lose control of her cryogenic powers. Connor’s father (also an Electric) was killed in a robbery when the boy was only five, and Mary did her best to avoid following in his father’s footsteps. But desperation leads Connor to join forces with a small team led by a TK named Garrett (Stephen Amell). Their mission: to steal some chemicals for a local crime boss and Reader named Marcus Sutcliffe (Greg Bryk). Things are not going smoothly.
I admit there is some skepticism in the film – the premise seemed hopelessly distracted – but Code 8 quickly won me over with its thoughtful, character-driven portrayal of marginalized, increasingly desperate people trapped in an impossible situation. So is police officer Park (Sung Kang), who, for personal reasons revealed later in the film, is still able to see Powers as human beings, even if his bigoted partner, Davis (Aaron Abrams), insults him. and suggests posting evidence to frame a prime suspect. “Life hits you hard enough, you’re going to hit back,” he notes in a farsighted conversation.
Both Amell’s cousins are strong performers, as are much of the cast, especially Matchett as a dying Mary Reed, and Kyla Kane as Nia, a healer with a Psyke addiction, who is forced to work for Marcus to cure the disease. to pay off her father’s debt. Production quality is generally quite good, which is impressive given the film’s limited budget, and the plot moves quickly, while still allowing plenty of time for introspective moments. Best of all, the movie knows better than to give us an easy happy ending, which would have taken all the effort screenwriter Chris Pare put into finding just the right tone of somber resignation. All in all, it’s worth a look.
Code 8 is currently streaming on Netflix.
List image by Vertical Entertainment/Netflix