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Cyberpunk Short Film Review: ‘Reboot’
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Reboot

Reboot
Directed by Joe Kawasaki
Written by Joe Kawasaki
Starring Emily Somers, Travis Aaron Wade, Martin Copping, Sonalii Castillo, Janna Bossier
Jan-Ken-Po Pictures
Unrated | 40 Minutes
Release Date: 2012

What would happen if, all of a sudden, the global network went black? Economic chaos, societal collapse, cats and dogs living together. Mass hysteria! Reboot is a cyberthriller film that posits the idea that whoever controls the global network, controls the world.

Director Joe Kawasaki put together this 40 minute short film with the aid of a successful Kickstarter campaign that helped the team with their productions costs. Whereas movies like Hackers eschewed any basis in reality for cool points, Reboot revels in its geekdom without beating you over the head with technical details. The result is a much better interpretation of hacker culture that touches on relevant, hot-button issues such as online privacy and freedom.

The story begins with Stat (Emily Somers) waking up bruised and bloodied from an apparent break-in. She has no memory of anything. All she knows is that she was beaten up, her apartment’s wrecked, and there’s an iPhone superglued to her hand that’s displaying a countdown. Stat receives a Skype call from her hacker buddies, Bren (Martin Copping) and Eva (Sonalii Castillo). Together, the three begin to piece together what happens when that scripted timer hits zero and, more importantly, how to stop it.

Stat and the countdown

Stat initially knows as much about herself as the viewer does. We learn details about her story and her background just as she does. All this happens while a digital timer is ticking ever closer to some unknown fate. My initial reaction to the movie was “oh great, another amnesia movie.” It’s a played-out story angle and Reboot brings nothing new to the concept—not that it needs to. What Reboot lacks in originality it makes up for with its tense plot.

The movie slowly cranks up the tension with its well-paced, race against the clock, storyline. A digital countdown is prominently displayed in the background of many scenes; the clock is frequently the sole focus of a camera shot. The stakes skyrocket several times throughout the movie when the countdown skips a few hours as punishment for Stat’s tampering.

Given the time constraints, Reboot fleshes out its cast with surprising depth. The opening credits elegantly establish necessary background information and characterization through a radio interview. Without feeling contrived, the interview introduces Eva and Bren and gives a brief overview on hacking ethos. The interview also poses the movie’s main question: what happened to Stat? Impressively, all of this pipework is laid down before the first scene.

Emily Somers nails the main role of Stat. She’s a cute, skater-type who’s also a highly skilled, professional, white-hat that helps companies secure their networks. Most of the movie focuses around Stat and she carries her scenes well. She’s sexy, but doesn’t flaunt it—she has bigger worries in life than humoring creepy old men. Her verbal sparring with Jesse (Travis Aaron Wade), the main antagonist, in a coffee shop is a pivotal scene in the movie. She holds her own and stares down the loony-toon villain in an idealistic showdown that clearly defines the differences in their world views.

Jesse, on the other hand, is a caricature of a villainy. On the surface, he’s a typical, “free the planet,” hacker. However, his abusive antics push him far beyond the category of a cool bad guy. Twice in this movie, he physically attacks a woman. These attack scenes are giant, neon, “I’m a Dick” signs that ensure viewers don’t sympathize with the hacker/terrorist. In the first offense, Jesse inexplicably attacks his girlfriend, Krystal (Janna Bossier), right before they bang uglies. He then straps her to a chair and makes her watch as an automated script uses her identity to troll social networks. This stunt is kind of childish and small world for such a high-minded idealist. It comes off as a misplaced, cheap tactic to quickly establish Jesse as a dickish psychopath.

Jesse’s other woman-beating offense occurs during the coffee shop scene mentioned earlier. This one is much more startling and in-character for the unstable hacker. After Stat challenges Jesse’s ideals, he plants her face straight into the table, which explains the busted nose. Shockingly, nobody jumps in to help Stat; the patrons and store manager are stand-offish even after Jesse leaves the scene. This begs the question: does everybody in town already know that Jesse is dangerous? Or is this scene some sort of commentary on the death of chivalry? In either case, this scene is far more effective at building Jesse into a dangerous villain capable of causing mass destruction.

Joe Kawasaki fearlessly offered a sneak preview of Reboot at DEFCON. This bold move definitely earned the short film some street cred among the hacker community. What’s even more impressive is his technical translation of hacking to the big screen. As a programmer by trade, I appreciated the glimpses of program code and command line interfaces included in the movie. The mechanics of the hacking scenes are plausible, but I question the lack of a search feature in Stat’s code editor. I’ll gladly sacrifice realism for drama to a certain extent. If you go too techie, then most of the audience’s eyes will glaze over. However, if your hacking scenes have no basis in reality, then they come off as preposterous and cheesy—even to the layman. Reboot walks this subtle line between technical realism and dramatization with an ease that many big studios should envy. Overall, I was pleased with the high-level view of programming. The code even had pointers for chrissakes. Love it. If you don’t know what a pointer is, then you’ve never suffered through the misery of a gateway computer science course. Be thankful.

The greatest compliment that I can give Reboot was that I legitimately wanted more. A lot more. This is an ambitious story that could easily expand into full-length motion picture. The movie flies through its 40 minute run time; I wanted to spend much more time exploring this world and its characters. Many questions are left unanswered and even more story ideas are underdeveloped. As a result, the ending doesn’t have quite the intended impact. And that’s unfortunate because as an expanded, full-length feature, I suspect that Reboot would hold its own among the best hacker movies. As it is, Reboot is a wonderfully tense 40 minutes—like a good, self-contained episode of 24. Fans of cyberthrillers and hacker movies should have no qualms about checking this movie out.

Highly Recommended.

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