I have mixed feelings about Alien Code, on one hand I found the whole film very intriguing, with its almost cerebral premise – while on the other hand, with a format of telling the story from both the past and the future, by the end of the movie Alien Code feels a little like it was already over in the beginning, once the mystery has been revealed. I can see how a lot of people may feel duped by the whole experience, but for the most part, I enjoyed this budget movie. And unlike a lot of sci-fi films, it did manage to keep me hooked until the final scene.
Alien Code starts off with an unsettling scene. Our protagonist, Alex, returns home to find a dead body on his floor. But that is not the most unusual part, as he flips over the corpse, he realizes it is him. Along with this discovery, is a note saying “watch me” and a USB stick containing a recorded message. Intrigued as well as unsettled, he plays the message, and it is himself looking ragged and gaunt, telling him about the events that lead to his death. Now if that isn’t a great way to immediately hook the audience, then I don’t know what to say.
It turns out that it all starts with a job offer from an organization called ARIST, who are asking for his cryptography skills. It is all cloaked in mystery, with Alex being asked to sign an NDA before he even knows the details of the job. But with a cheque for $50,000 on the table and no other means of income due to his criminal background, he soon agrees to sign. It turns out this organization, which is supported by the NSA, is hiring him to decipher an encrypted message sent from a satellite that is purportedly from Earth, but sent from the future.
From the very start, I got Fringe vibes, and that was even before the mysterious men showed up. So if you are a fan of that TV show, this will be up your alley. By far, the acting in Alien Code was its strongest point, which for something that cannot rely on flashy graphics, makes it a worthwhile endeavour. There are very few characters in this, except for our main protagonist and someone who later offers to help him, so acting chops was what a lot of the whole film hinged on. Both lead actors (Azura Skye and Kyle Gallner) did a superb job in making this story believable and making the audience emotionally connected to the plight of their characters.
Although Alex is a criminal, the way the narrative is crafted in Alien Code, we feel for his predicament in the story. With the lure of money, he ends up starting a chain of events that will have devastating consequences for everyone, while he himself is grimly affected by unforeseen consequences of his seemingly benign actions. It is this nuance that allows Kyle Gallner to really show his acting finesse, allowing an intensity but also softness to coexist in our reluctant hero, Alex. I must also say, that though there are very little makeup effects needed in this, I was impressed by the gradual decline of Alex. With low budgets, it can be easy to make these subtle changes to his expiring condition more garish and unbelievable, but it was rather well done in Alien Code.
However, the latter portion of Alien Code did show its weaknesses, which was more in the script than anything the actors can be blamed for. As the mystery starts to reveal itself, it becomes more limp. With a story that jumps back and forth between the past and the future (depending on your point of view), you can’t help but feel a bit cheated by how it finishes. With a storyline that has set the stage for predetermination, the ending feels a bit pointless in itself.
There is also the muddiness of the ending, which unfortunately does not really give it that finished feeling that you are hoping for. The mystery is revealed for the most part, but you kinda feel unbothered by it. Though there is a lot of dialogue in Alien Code for the majority of it, I kinda felt it moved too slow in the final 10 minutes. And for me, it did not adequately explain why the encrypted message was sent in the first place. Even with the lengthy conversation between Alex and the supposed leader of these aliens, did we get any real justification?
Regardless of its fumbled ending, I did still find Alien Code to be worth 1hr 37 minutes of runtime. It is an interesting concept, that I feel like a lot of sci-fi fans will enjoy, if you ignore some of the dicey special effects, though thankfully these are few and far between.