16 Bits (2023) Review
Opening with a text crawl telling the viewer about the controversial video game franchise Hazard Waster and its anti-hero Waxx Waster, 16 Bits quickly introduces us to Phillip (Jeremiah Benjamin, Doll Face, Planet 9 from MeOuwter Space). Said introduction involves a pizza delivery guy named Kevin (Charles Chudabala, 40uR: Part II, Irrational Fear), a set of nipple clamps and images of him masturbating while screaming “I hate you!” at a picture of his ex, Alice (Elissa Dowling, Girl on the Third Floor, The Most Dangerous Game), which should give you an idea what to expect from the rest of the film.
It’s his birthday and he’s got a cake, a pizza with some mushrooms to put on it, and his copy of Hazard Waster. He just doesn’t have anyone to share them with because Doug (Raymond Vinsik Williams, Axegrinder 2, Apex Predators), Flynn (Scott Butler, Choke, Heartbeat), Bobby (D.M. Harrison, Palisades Justice, Hitting Home) and everyone else has blown him off. He’s about to get some unexpected company though as Waxx Waster (Kevin Caliber, Tales of Frankenstein, Craving) steps out of the game and into his living room.
16 Bits has been a long time in the making, filming began in 2019 and was interrupted by COVID. That was followed by a couple of years worth of post-production and a search for distribution. But the effort was worth it as writer/director Aaron Mento (Ugly Sweater Party, Phantasm Vigil Lords) has created a film that’s part Last Action Hero and part After Hours as this unlikely pair take a trip through Los Angeles that ties together an even more unlikely cast of characters.
Much of the humour in 16 Bits comes from the idea that Waxx being a character from an old-school fighting game only knows one way to deal with things, violently. This gets progressively darker, and funnier as the film progresses. One minute he’s beating a criminal to death in the background as Phillip gets food from a street vendor. The next he’s telling a yoga instructor “You like vegetables? Well, now you are one!” before snapping his spine.
Given its budget, 16 Bit limits its effect to a few bloody body parts and a morphing game controller that looks like it was done in claymation. Some of the script’s more budget taxing scenes are rendered in 16 bit animation. This could have looked cheap and silly, but it works because it does look like actual footage from one of the Hazard Waster video games.
The cast, which also includes familiar faces such as Hunter Johnson (Breakout, Paranormal Attraction) and Shawn C. Phillips (Zombi VIII: Urban Decay, The Candy Witch) in small roles, does a good job. For the most part, they play things just seriously enough to keep 16 Bit funny without becoming overly silly or campy. Caliber does a good job of making Waster seem initially likable and heroic before gradually revealing his darker side. For his part, Benjamin makes Phillip likeable despite his multiple personality issues.
I do wish the subplot involving the three friends who blow him off had been better integrated into the film. It’s twisted and funny, with Shawn Kohne (ShadowMarsh, Dealership) giving a great performance as the demented Pulp. But it feels like it has a very slim connection to the plot compared to the amount of screen time it gets.
Despite the problems posed by its budget, 16 Bits is a darkly funny take on classic video games and action movies. Fans of either, or those with a darker sense of humour, should enjoy it.