REVIEW: ‘Code 8’ is a Troubled but Engaging World

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Code 8 Featured image

Code 8 is a sci-fi/action film directed and written by Jeff Chan. In 2016, Stephen and Robbie Amell released a short film of the same name, existing as a teaser for a crowdfunding campaign towards a larger feature film starring and produced by both of the cousins. The Indiegogo campaign surged past the initial $200,000 target, raising over $2.5 million. The plot takes place in the fictional Lincoln City, where 4% of the population have powers. One of those people is Connor (Robbie Amell), a powerful “grade 5 electric”. Desperate for money to save his dying mother,  Connor is recruited into a struggling crime syndicate by Garrett (Stephen Amell). As the scores get bigger and more dangerous, and pressure mounts on the crew, they discover that no one can be trusted.

The plot, while fairly predictable, is well-structured and interesting enough to keep the audience watching. The story follows Connor and Garrett’s crew performing heists and trying to earn money for Garrett’s boss Sutcliffe (Greg Bryk). The setup of the world and the laws within it are explained within the first five minutes, taking the original short film and remolding it to better serve as the start of a larger adventure.

Chan successfully describes the dark tone that this subculture of people’s lives under within those first scenes. While people with abilities in other universes are revered and idolized within their respective societies, those in Code 8 are restricted, under surveillance and prejudiced against. Every action the powered characters make is done in order to survive, highlighting how disadvantaged they are. 

The world itself is more fascinating than the narrative plot within it, but Chan’s script confidently creates an overhanging feeling of hopelessness within it. The theme of classism that the screenplay is structured around creates a sense that the characters are incapable of breaching the cultural situation they’re in. This is one of the more profound perspectives of the film and really affected me while watching.  

While the plot is focused on the characters portrayed by the Amells, they are actually the least interesting characters in the film. Connor’s willingness to do absolutely everything to save his mother is admirable. Robbie Amell switches between pow Garrett’s quest to be at the top of the organization but always ends up working for another top dog, instilling some weakness into a character that sees himself as a leader. Both of the cousins have a good screen presence, but it does feel like Chan reveals everything about them within their first scenes, with very little development throughout the second and third acts.

Code 8 Stephen Amell

I had more investment in Nya, a healer forced into working for Sutcliffe. She’s a troubled individual, with her hatred of the notion that she is only of importance to people because of what she can do, as opposed to who she is. There’s a level of emotional depth that Kyla Kane brings to the role that isn’t in any of the other characters, and it makes her stand out from the rest of the cast. Laysla De Oliveira and Vlad Alexis, both playing members of Garrett’s gang, are also fantastic peripheral figures. Sarah Höedlmoser’s small cameos were electrifying. My only criticism about them is that they didn’t appear enough, as they seem like better products of that universe they live in than the two central figures.

One of my favourite aspects of Code 8 is the implementation and use of powers. The abilities that the characters have are strong, but they’re not Earth-shattering. Much of that was due to the limited budget the production had, but it actually works out in the film’s favor. The visual effects look polished, from Connor’s flickering eyes and sparks that come out of his hand to Garrett’s telekinesis being illustrated like a heat mirage. And the light that shines from Nia when she uses her ability, in one scene, in particular, is beautiful.

The biggest issue within the movie is the lack of chemistry between the two characters portrayed by the Amells. Much of the film features just those two alone together, but it never feels like there is a real connection between the pair. There are no small moments of warmth when both of them are on screen together, nor is there any time when you feel like they truly hate or despise each other. There is no expectation that this has to happen just because of the familial connection between the cousins, but the project was marketed around the fact that this was one of the first times the two actors acted together. Ultimately, more time should have been taken towards the dialogue between the two. 

The screenplay could have taken a break from the constant glumness of the movie. There is minimal humor or light-hearted moments within the film. Every second of the movie feels dark and miserable, and just a small conversation between characters or smiles within the gang to just lift the endless feeling of darkness. With no relief, the audience can become desensitized to the negative tone and events don’t carry as much weight as they did in the first act.

Code 8 is a troubled but engaging world that has the potential to spin off into something bigger and better. As much as I wanted to see more of the wider society, Connor’s story pulls at the heartstrings while also managing to stay grounded and tell the larger story through his smaller one.  I was one of the initial backers back in 2016. I’ve got the postcards and scripts and dozens of email updates to prove it, and I am impressed with what the creators accomplished.

While the writing isn’t at all groundbreaking and some performances could be much better, the production is well shot, well-edited and some of the scenes really are fun to watch. While the subject matter and genre may tempt others to liken it to a franchise like X-Men, I would liken it more to TV series such as Heroes or Alphas. With the budget allocated, it isn’t entirely fair to compare it to blockbusters, but it does feel more like an extended pilot for a TV show.  I would definitely love for this property to grow. It is definitely worth a watch.

Code 8 is now available to stream on Netflix

"Code 8" is a Troubled but Engaging World
7/10

TL;DR

Code 8 is a troubled but engaging world that has the potential to spin off into something bigger and better. As much as I wanted to see more of the wider society, Connor’s story pulls at the heartstrings while also managing to stay grounded and tell the larger story through his smaller one.