Canadian mid-budget Code 8 (2019) has been on a steady rise in the Netflix Top 10 category for the past week, urging viewers to give it a go with its homepage running trailer and gritty dystopian ambience. Set in an alternative timeline in the 1990’s, this sci-fi action film in not a Netflix original, which offers an extra incentive after a series of disappointing sci-fi/dystopian films, such as IO, The Titan or How It Ends.
Right from the start, the topic is far too familiar (see: The X-Men franchise, or The Incredibles). Written and directed by Jeff Chan, Code 8 is based on a 2016 short film of the same name. It starts with an onslaught of successive images and sounds, revealing the backstory during the opening credits. The montage is so vicious that it somehow prevents clear understanding of what has led to the discrimination against the people born with superpowers, and what the new hype drug PSYKE is all about.
Connor Reed (Robbie Amell) is unemployed, yet power-enabled, and trying to survive in a world that shuns people with powers. Soon, he finds himself taking up illegal jobs for Garett (Stephen Amell, known for his leading role in the CW series Arrow), who can provide him with the much needed money for his sick mother’s cancer treatment (Kari Matchett). Connor is an Electric, in terms of superpowers, and learns to harness his gift in order to work for Lincoln City’s drug lord Sutcliffe (Greg Bryk). Meanwhile, the police is busy sending droids and cybercops after them.
The action tempo is decently paced, but the plot is too generic and simplistic: poverty, minority marginalisation, police state. There is nothing new about that. Even though the actors seem immersed enough, their characters are too linear and one-dimensional to be relatable. The dialogue sounds like it’s been carved out of a 90’s B movie, almost preventing the storyline from developing. The special effects are perhaps the most impressive thing about this production, given the overall limited budget. On the whole, this felt like a story arc in the making – or rather a sequel to come, due to the Amell cousins’ popularity.