Abbey Bell is extremely worried about her teenage son, Jacob. Worried that Jacob, an intelligent boy with good grades and is a social magnet, is plotting a mass shooting at his school. After countless preemptive attempts to warn authorities and medical professionals of her suspicions of his psychopathic tendencies, Abbey begins recording a diary and setting up spy cameras inside the family home hoping to catch Jacob’s unpredictable and dangerous suggestions and threats on tape. The videos will also serve as blog fodder for other desperate mothers experiencing similar disturbing behavioral issues with their children. As the single mother and her son continue their at home war of bickering words and distraught suspicions, the maternal bond once shared between mother and son begins to deteriorate and evolve into unsurmountable distrust between each other; a distrust that has been simmering ever since Jacob was a toddler stemmed by Abbey’s dark family secret sheathed for many years until Jacob weaponizes it for his utmost survival against his concerned mother.
Before the coronavirus pandemic transformed powerful sovereign nations into panic-induced introverts wetting their pants at the first spray of a sneeze hitting their skin, news medias around the globe delectably ate up headlines of mass shootings as there would seem, at least for a good stretch, to be a sad and unfortunate mass shooting every single day. Tucia Lyman’s “M.O.M. Mother of Monsters” derives from that fearful climate while also purposing another sub-topical issue of a parent’s position in that circumstance. Lyman tackles one fictional woman’s tale of internal turmoil as her directorial debut and the sophomore script of a feature film not in a documentary format, pivoting away from the “Untold Stories of the ER” and “I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant” junk food that consumes about 2/3’s of television comatose Americans. The “found footage” 2020 released psychological thriller is produced by Elain White and Austin Porter whom both have collaborated with Lyman in the past.
While not as sexily depicted and as authoritative as Emilia Clarke is depicted to be the Mother of Dragons in HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” New York City born Melinda Page Hamilton can surely sell a mother of a monster as Abbey Bell, vending sharply laid out doubts and uncertainties with a mountain of convincing circumstantial evidence against her only child. The “Not Forgotten” actress quietly folds into herself as the submissively passive Abbey on a histrionics mission to out her son as a danger to society. Bailey Edwards commands a subversive and rebellious teenage Jacob Bell that can use his millennial powers to steamroll over his mother’s lack-of-assertive powers. This film will be Bailey’s first substantial co-staring venture, along with minor performances in “My Dead Boyfriend” starring Heather Graham and Netflix’s “Bright” with Will Smith, and who will subtly introduce Jacob as some white nationalist, gun enthusiasts who has a gas mask with a swastika insignia, first person shooter gear and video games, and scenes of him walking in front of gun shops. While Hamilton and Edwards dominate the majority of screen time, the short cast list rounds out with Janet Ulrich Brooks, Julian de la Celle, and a special appearance from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s” Ed Asner as a behavioral doctor Skyping perspective therapy with Abbey. Does anyone believe a 91-year-old knows how to use a video chat? It’s a bit of a stretch….
“M.O.M. Mother of Monsters” throws caution to the wind embarking on a viewpoint of how far a mother will go to expose her child’s dissident and, potentially, deadly behavior. Lyman also digs deeper into the psyche of the mother and the child, sticking them with a ticking time bomb that is the heredity factor. Mental illness is a huge underlined theme that Lyman slips into the fold as signs of one person’s erratic behavior can be stemmed from the secrets of little known relatives and their seemingly destined out of control path can no way be influenced externally without reserving counseling, extenuating the age-old debate of nurture versus nature. Lyman’s storytelling smartly preserves an obscured aspect, cloaked by selective denial and tremendous paranoia, that becomes a catalyzing game changer of disturbing consequences. The narrative isn’t at all flawless with weak spots in the character structure that pigeonhole the roles to be stuck inside this cat and mouse cycling mindset between Abbey and Jacob. For instance, Abbey’s an obsessive, 24-hour recording zealot whose documenting never reveals anything else happening in Abbeys life, like work, friends, etc., whereas Jacob’s intermixed recordings with a female friend outside the contentious home reveal a life beyond his skirmish with this mother and his videogame shut-in habitat, but these recordings stick out awkwardly as much of the story’s is from Abbey’s perspective so how did Jacob’s casual conversation videography become a part of Abbey’s cautionary tale for other distraught mothers? Whether intentional or not to exhibit the imbalanced social complexities between Jacob and Abbey’s personal lives or lack thereof, Jacob’s exterior scenes course out of bounds, penalizing portions of the plot.
Become submersed in dark thoughts and monomania with Tucia Lyman’s “M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters” hitting the digital HD VOD platforms soon after premiering at the Los Angeles Arena Cinelounge this past Friday the 13th through Indie Rights distribution. Since this is a theatrical and VOD title, there is no home video release to provide technical specs and assessments; this also includes no special features. “M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters” hammers down the sociopolitical hot topics of mental illness, gun violence, and presumptive fear teeming in America with a spitting image and climate aware psychological thriller bristled with family dysfunction.
Three sordid, macabre tales straight from the controversial pages of Glenn Danzig’s Verotik comic line that slips into the surreal lurid dimension of obscure stories of a subconscious half-human, half-spider manifestation with a sexual appetite and a morbid desire to break the necks of women of the night, of a disfigured and mysteriously alluring stripper who seeks out beautiful women nightly to crudely remove their faces with a knife and overlay their once perfect skin on top of her face as she adds them to her collection of facial distinctions, and, lastly, of a bloodthirsty medieval countess known to her subjects for exquisite beauty and grace emanated by the blood baths of her virginal female subjects.
Legendary metal musician and songwriter Glenn Danzig has been a symbolic (Anti-)God that inspired other metal bands and fans over for more than 40 years, birthing perhaps the original, and still more popular, horror-goth punk bands to ever set the black lit stage, the Misfits in the late 1970’s. Outside his illustrious musical career, Danzig owns Verotik, a comic book publisher, that’s a portmanteau derived from “violent” and “erotic,” geared toward adult-themed material and inspired by his fascination with horror. In comes “Verotika,” a three short film anthological horror feature penned by Danzig and is his director debut while in collaboration with powerhouse musical recording label, Cleopatra Records, under their cinema label, Cleopatra Entertainment. Co-producing alongside Danzig is James Cullen Bressack, whose heavily been the created force behind the affectional indie found footage horror “2 Jennifer” and “From Jennifer” films, and Bressack associating collaborator, Jarrett Furst.
Keeping with the “Verotika’s” motif of scantily cladded women and the elements of horror, each story is driven by a female lead portrayed by actress who’ve established themselves with a scream queen presence, have enter the entertainment industry by way of X-rated programming, or are fresh faced with the presumptive hypothesis that the role secured was for their voluptuous assets. Ashley Wisdom is one of those endowed actresses that fit the latter category. The Instagram model and fling of Glenn Danzig becomes a shoe in for the lead of Dajette in the first segment, “The Albino Spider of Dajette.” Wisdom’s cringing faux French accent and rigid manner doesn’t wholly dilute from her bustier attributes that include prosthetic eyeballs for nipples – all part of Dajette’s character – and fairs better than Scotch Hopkins’s (“2 Jennifer”) absurd Albino Spider of grim free verse prospects inside a stiff, stingy mockery of a humoresque spider. Optimistically, the episodes only go up from her with the following tale ”Change of Face” that follows mystery girl, “12/12/12’s” Rachel Alig, hunting down and slashing off the faces of beautiful women for her collection. Alig is a palpable psychopath amongst a sea of overzealous, conventional orchestrated character types that sells a noir, or hints at a giallo, loom that sensualizes as well as sexualizes a salacious one-person schismatic view of beauty. However, the grand finale saves the best for last with Verotik’s more diabolical and foundational brutal transgressors, Drukija: The Countessa of Blood. Without so much of a setup or without expositional bookends that dive into backstory, conflict blossoming, or even resolution, Drukija’s a voyeuristic chronicle that exhibits the day in a life of a abhorrent ruler soaked in virgin blood with Australian actress Alice Tate fulfilling Drukija’s iron spike studded crown. Numerous scenes linger with Tate just bathing in blood or checking her sangre-moisturized skin in a three-way mirror to just extenuate the picking and choosing of daughtered victims, gleaming of deity-hood inside the eye’s of her maniacal maiden hand, and, in her spare time, amasses decapitated heads of the slaughtered young women as keepsakes. Yet, Kayden Kross dignifies that porn stars can get into the silver screen market, well, at least in Danzig’s irregular one. The director and starlet filmmaker hosts an outer edge story as the witchy-gowned and demonically unholy Morella who introduces each segment in between. Sean Kenan (“My Trip Back to the Dark Side”), Natalia Borowsky, Emma Gradin, with special cameo appearances by Caroline Williams (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre II”), Courtney Stodden, and a number of women from the porn circuit like Kross, such as Bobbi Dylan, Katrina Jade, Emma Hix, Aalyiha Hadid, and Veronica Ricci.
I’m all for the forging of industry realms when comic meet the big screen with adaptation and love Verotik’s edgy eroticism and hyper-violence mantra, but “Verotika’s” pulpy irregular narrative meter coursed a perplexing devolved sojourn through our visual cortex, leading us pleading for a bigger, better version of Danzig’s auteur dreamscapes. Verotik’s a fire and brimstone optical narrative from the illustrated pages that speak volumes of profligate and vivid avant-garde characters and unlimited violence that tremendously lose that tailor-made authenticity when translated to the screen. Danzig’s free-form script works with music symbiotically; for together, the strums and riffs glue together disassociating dialogue to a unison of harmonics, even if Danzig’s prefers harsher rock melodies. For the musician’s first dance with directing, Danzig deserves props creating a gory, pulpy, and colorful piece of his subsequent profession. Yet, there’s always room for improvement in his technique, such as Danzig’s fascination with the zoom feature on the camera. The edit cut is almost too rough for swallow with no segue equilibrium between shots that result in some obvious cue acting and I’m usually a fan of Vincent Guaustini’s work, but his Albino Spider suit, in which the other four arms out of the three sets were fastened together, rolled back years of good effects work.
True to form, Cleopatra Entertainment offers a staggering release for Glenn Danzig’s “Verotika” in a triple-format Blu-ray/DVD/CD release distributed by MVDVisual. For this review, the Blu-ray was covered and the transfer is released in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, shot on an Arri Alexa anamorphic lens camera. The enormity of color schemes offers a wide variety of tints, especially in “The Albino Spider of Dajette,” but revert to more a natural tone for “Change of Face” and “Drukija: Countess of Blood” with stable details inside and outside the black. Slightly hazy (or maybe just smokey?) at times, but the 1080 does too good of a job to see all the nonexistent pores on the ripped off faces in “Change of Face.” The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio mix that, again, has a lossy quality from Cleopatra Entertainment, a sub-label of a major music recording company. The surround faintly register ambient audiophiles inside the channels whereas Danzig’s rock solid and eclectic soundtrack offers more, just a notch more, LFE oomph quality to boost into all areas. The CD renders around the same lossy quality. Bonus features include a trailer, a slideshow, and, of course, the compact disc featuring a new track from Danzig and also features tracks by Ministry, Pink Velvet, Studio 69, and Switchblade Symphony. Like a bizarro “Red Shoes Diaries'” episode, “Verotika” bares no shortage of nudity that’s interlocked with well-nigh arbitrary violence spread-eagled in a gnarled cinema anthology of surreality that lied festering inside Glenn Danzig’s head.
In 1985, director Hilary Jacobs sets her sights to finish her Australian low budget horror film, “Hot Blooded,” at all cost, but the ambitious cast and crew struggle to compete with riley personalities that slow down production. The film’s masked killer goes mad and gores with an indefinite stake into the film’s heart after mercilessly murdering Jacobs before being violently killed himself by the film’s vain star, American Vanessa Turnbill. Fourteen years have past and the “Hot Blooded” reels have been deemed cursed for whenever they’re viewed, someone dies, but a group of determined film students are keen on finishing Hilary Jacobs’ last directorial and even gain the original leading lady, Vanessa Turnbill, to return and finish her staggering performance. With the partial, unfinished reel screened by all cast and crew and filming begins shooting on the original set premises, the evil masked killer returns to finish each one off diligently before they’re able to finish the film.
With the late Wes Craven pumping new spirit into the a life support stricken slasher subgenre in 1996 with “Scream,” masked killers surged into proper restoration once more right before the turn of the century and Mushroom Pictures, the cinematic banner of one of Australia’s most notable indie music publisher, Mushroom Group, asserts their debut title into the stratosphere grazing genre that who’ve now initiated a creative footing into film production and distribution with a commemorating meta-slasher entitled “Cut.” Directed by Kimble Rendall (“Bait”) and penned by Dave warner, “Cut” dares to ride the newly rediscovered genre wave early in the wake of establishing predecessors that strived to formulate an un-formulaic counter measure against the slasher status quo, but “Cut” doubles down with Warner’s script that meshes subgenres, compounding the horror to uncharted territories where filmmakers do not dared trek sitting comfortably in their less is more recliner. “Cut” relates more to Wes Craven than most genre fans would like to admit but the similarities the two directors’ characters and killer are compelling to explore and compare. The filming is mostly shot in the Adelaide region of South Australia; the same region that produced recent horror such as 2017’s zombie post-apocalyptic “Cargo” starring Martin Freeman and the great white shark thriller “The Reef.”
Comprised mainly of an Australian cast, “Cut’s” headlining leading lady is an American “Sixteen Candles” sweetheart taking a leap into unfamiliar territory and I’m not talking about of the Outback kind. Molly Ringwald has only ever starred in one other horror film in her 40 year professional acting career and after the dismally reviewed 1997 cubicle-cutthroat thriller, “Office Killer,” the “Breakfast Club” star steps into a more complex role that involves her multi-tasking two persona performances of essentially the same character spanning a story lined fourteen years apart. As a true testament to “Cut’s” makeup and stylist department, Ringwald, who was about 30 years old at the time of filming, goes incognito as she’s barely recognizable as Chloe, a role within a role played by Vanessa Turnbill playing the teenage character in the scrapped “Hot Blooded” slasher. Though a far cry from a coming to age film, Ringwald pivots to a coming to terms with her character’s handling of prolonged fear from the fateful and deadly night the masked killer almost ended Vanessa’s life by strongly playing to the character’s overpowering sense of self worth and brash Hollywood attitude against the one thing she can’t control…her past. Vanessa is not alone in her quest for finishing a scarring afterthought as “Hot Blooded’s” newest director, student filmmaker Raffy Carruthers, picks up where Hilary Jacobs’ left off after being butchered and is determined to wrap Jacobs’ legacy short of being a hack director. As the other half of the two resilient female characters, Raffy is played by New Zealand actress Jessica Napier who channels her inner Sidney Prescott as a strong feminine survivor unnerved by the macabre that’s closing in around her brought upon a sadistic masked killer and braves sacrificing herself to thwart pure evil’s carnage. The rest of “Cut’s” cast disperses the right amount of character building performances by Sarah Knats, Stephen Curry (“Rogue”), Matthew Russell, Erika Walters, Cathy Adamek (“The Babadook”), Steve Greig, Sam Lewis, and pop singer Kylie Minogue (“Street Fighter”) whose had collaborative projects with Mushroom Group and also a role in a Kimble Rendall 11-minutel short, “Hayride to Hell.”
The meta approach “Cut” takes might detach itself from the plot of “Scream,” but in essence, the Kimble Rendall film is derivative work of Wes Craven who aimed to expose and exploit cliched tropes of the slasher flicks to upheave audiences wits on what they know about the genre and where the plot might eventually boil down to in a orthodox simmer of uncreative sensationalism. “Scream” smartly broke down plot structures, revealed character flaws, and even name dropped popular directors and films that became the very foundational basis of the Renaissance slasher era that went unchanged for years, decades perhaps. “Cut” also reasserts shout outs as references, along with Rendall’s creative knack of making every character swim in the pool of suspicion, to build up a catalytic twist no one would or could predict despite all the subtle clues, generally abundant in slashers, toward revealing the killer’s true identity and motivation. I wouldn’t be bold enough to say Rendall’s “Cut” deserves to be above or on the same level as “Scream,” because, frankly, it doesn’t, but “Cut” has a singular, unique identity with all of its own loaded modern day slasher traits such as a high kill count and an intriguing self-referential plot. Where “Cut” shakes at the knees a bit is how the practical effects were accomplished and the scores of cheesy late 90’s-to-early 2000 visual effects bared an ugly resembles of something that could have come straight out of the Super Mario Bros. film adaptation. A minority of the kills were decently crafted to bring a honorable character death, but there were many that succumb to a quick edit or stemmed from an off screen cut down that took away the breadth of impact and left more to be morbidly desired. Where “Cut” struggles shouldn’t be deemed ineligible for attention because of those reasons and, in fact, “Cut” sustains a high entertaining rating with immense value in the replay sector to catch thematical intimations and do a comparative analysis on Crave and Rendall’s films on how they experiment, treat, and respect the greats that were once lost to success over a long period mediocre financial and routine blundering.
Umbrella Entertainment and Beyond distribution debuts the Blu-ray release of the Mushroom Pictures and Kimble Rendall’s “Cut” with a full HD, 1080p 4K restoration from the original film’s 35mm interpos and presented in a widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The 4K scan illuminates the hard, dark lighting used primarily for tone setting, granting an extremely gothic look without being inside the parameters of inherently gothic set design and the scanned transfer also revitalizes the snaps of color where appropriate while still leaving the natural grain from the 35mm filmstock. The English language dual channel DTS-HD Master Audio track has lossy quality because there is such contentious and explosive moments that warrant audio quality; however, the 2.0 track is sufficient to lay simple groundwork of depth, range, and clarity and the soundtrack, no matter how generic, elevates to a concentrated level with the killer on the hunt. Dialogue murkiness is no issue here with a clear path of discernible lines. Special features seem limited and antiquated for a 4K, Blu-ray debut release, but do include archived cast interviews with Molly Ringwald, Kyle Minogue, Jessica Napier, and Kimble Rendall, behind-the-scenes of some of the shots, a commentary with director Kimble Rendall and writer Dave Warner, storyboard and concept art gallery, “Hayride to Hell” short from Rendall that stars Minogue and Richard Roxburgh, and the theatrical trailer of the film. The back cover states a region B disc, but my player was set on A and prior press releases suggested a region free release so this particular gem should play in any region. If a die hard Wes Craven fan, place the 20-years-young “Cut” into your queue as a forward thinking slasher with brass balls and a marred killer with modified gardener sheers that provokes the genre still to this day.
Anna’s a senior at Little Haven high school whose not thinking about what University to attend after she graduates. Instead, Anna focuses on working all the time as a shoe counter girl at the local bowling alley to pay off a year’s worth of traveling despite her father’s wishes, even working through Christmas, but when a sudden zombie apocalypse derails her and the worlds’ plans, Anna’s friends and father are her first priority. With her father trapped at the high school, Anna and her closest friends must trek and battle through a horde of the undead from the bowling alley before striking out dead themselves. Despite social differences and teenage angst, they must dance and sing to put now frivolous juvenile issues aside and work together if to not become one of the living dead.
Timed just right from 2019’s Christmas holiday season is Second Sight Films’s two-disc set of “Anna and the Apocalypse,” a contagiously fun, well performed, and cheekily gory musical comedy-horror by the United Kingdom’s John McPhail directing a script written by Alan McDonald and the late Ryan McHnery, based off McHenry’s short student film “Zombie Musical.” As true to the marketing behind the film, “Anna and the Apocalypse” is certainly the “High School Musical” with teeth-gnashing, putrid-walking, and flesh hungry zombies. The Scottish bred production comes from Blazing Griffin Films, Parkhouse Productions, Constellation Creatives and Creative Scotland to flash mob dance and sing in chorus through the apocalyptic melee while figuring out their complicated adolescent troubles, such as what to do after graduation, turbulent romantic emotions, and being different and alone.
The ensemble cast is heftily made up of unknown talent beginning with, then 17 year old, Ella Hunt in her debut lead performance as the titular character. Hunt’s a fresh, young face with an astonishing amount of acting range with Anna whose defiant against the wishes of her father, but, deep down inside, still wholeheartedly cares for him as he’s her only parent left alive, and Hunt has natural poppin’ dance moves and pop-star vocals. In Anna’s core group of friends, Sarah Swire’s Steph North stands amongst them as the LGBTQ representative whose strongly portrayed as courageous, caring, and independent while her characterization at the beginning of the films focuses on downing her life to the pit of despair with parents, who Steph claims wants nothing to do with her, are on holiday in Mexico and her romantic partner won’t be spending the holiday with her. Swire’s choreographic and musician background, along with an edgy look, make her a perfect fit for Steph. There’s also Anna’s best friend, a boy named John, played by Malcolm Cummings in his first feature film. Cummings has to be the hapless friend zone boy that remains sidelined when trying to find the opportune time in expressing his true feelings for Anna, but finds himself the third wheel in a high school love triangle conscripted with Nick, a hot-to-trot prick and bully colorfully depicted by Ben Wiggins. Christopher Leveaux and Marli Siu are the gang’s love birds, Mark Benton is Anna’s custodian father, and “Game of Thrones'” Paul Kaye antagonizes with a power hungry assistant headmaster gone crazy!
Honesty, I wasn’t sure how “Anna and the Apocalypse” was going to work, or be successful, or be entertaining at all as a horror movie. Horror-musicals are a rare breed that come with a mind-boggling quantitative algorithm to make them truly work wonders and, somehow, John McPhail dusted off his abacus, powered up his TI calculator, and put note to pen to paper and delivered a holiday spectacular on a horror scale stage. The horror, though very prominent and unmistakable, takes a backseat to the powerful soundtrack by the ensemble cast, ranging from caricatured with Fish Wrap to the desolation of personal connectivity with Human Voice to a couple of Christmas satires to bring a little joy with the merry mayhem. The mayhem is absolute with all the trimmings of a zombie apocalypse, even right down to the military being the butt of a joke when they’re overrun by a slow-moving force, but while there’s some gore early on with a dead head decapitated by a see-saw and a pair of bowling balls pop the top of one alleyway corpse, the blood flows downward to a little more than a dribble and “Anna and the Apocalypse” cobbles together a mere mediocre zombie film from then on out.
Already seen a couple of standard releases from other distributors, Second Sight Films reserved “Anna and the Apocalypse” to the royal treatment with a special features heavy region B, two-disc Blu-ray set containing two versions of the film – the theatrical release cut and the extended version which will include a musical number that didn’t make the theatrical cut. The Arri Alexa SXT shot film is presented in 1080p and in the film’s original aspect ratio, a widescreen 2.37:1, with a featured ProRes 3.2k format that allows upscaling to UHD quality providing a high resolution output that’s clean and bright. The color palate has real vibrancy under the director of photography’s, Sara Deane, direction to use colorful outfits and neoned and darkened sets. Some scenes become a little choppy with some sloppy editing work, but as a whole, the story remains coherent. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 vivaciously energizes the soundtrack with alternative pop numbers, harmonious melodies, and a synchronized chorus, but there are times the dialogue falls into a lossy grey area. A stereo 2.0 track is also available as well as optional English SDH subtitles. The Second Sights Films’ release is chock full of extras with disc one including an audio commentary with director John McPhail, writer Alan McDonald, composers Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an alternate opening scene, a deleted song “What Side Are You On?”, a deleted bathroom scene, the Hollywood Ending cast and crew lip dub, footage from the EdinBurgh Film Festival, and, of course outtakes. Disc two includes a brand new feature-length documentary with new interviews by the actors and filmmakers. Plus, the original short film – “Zombie Musical.” A definite definitive two-disc set from Second Sight Films goes hand-in-hand with “Anna and the Apocalypse’s” feel good charm and unruly undead charisma complete with catchy tunes and bloody zombie goons in a modern day holiday cult classic.
In the near future where assistive technology serves as the cultural way of life, a very manual Grey Trace still clings to being self-independent while his loving wife, Asha, laps up and embraces new and innovative tech. When an fatal shooting strikes down Asha and cripples Grey to an automated wheelchair, Grey is forced into a depressive world he no longer recognizes. Desperate to find his wife’s killers, he accepts experimental computer chip implant known as STEM to send the signals from his brain to his extremities; however, that is not all STEM can do. The smart technology can also scan, record, and reactive to all of Grey’s experiences, be a voice of knowledge, and enact super human abilities that will aid in Grey’s vengeance, but without much control over his own body, how much will Grey continue to use the smart device that becomes smarter every minute.
In a cinematic age when remakes, re-imaginings, and sequels really do rule supreme, a breath of innovation and compelling storytelling in Leigh Whannell’s 2018 science fiction, action-noir “Upgrade” is a technological advance that’s feels lightyears ahead in comparison. The “Saw” and “Insidious” writer, who indulges in all of horror’s gracious qualities, tackles the future with a synergetic and brutal vengeance film on indie-budget proportions; however, “Upgrade” feels no where near being low budget in a futuristic world that includes monochromatic self-driving cars, bio-weaponized forearms and hands, and a robotic protein shake slingers for those meal replacement pick-me-ups. With the assistance from Blumhouse Tilt, a Blumhouse production sublabel that seeks to release projects onto multi-platforms, Whannell gained freedom to script, in every sense of the world, his own vision of cyborg horror and crime thriller.
Logan Marshall-Green stars as Grey Trace, an analog man living comfortably in a digital world. Trace is a dying bred as the technology ecosystem slowly creeps into all that earned by hard work, even in his small classic car restoration business. The “Prometheus” star tackles a unique physicality aspect of an action film that involves the robotic responses of hand-to-hand combat while also being the emotional punching bag of pelted heartache and turmoil. Portraying his character as a man’s man, Marshall-Green has to find humility in not only unable to self-serve himself as a cripple, but then also rely on the one thing he withdrew himself from for help….a machine. “Upgrade” primarily focuses on Trace to even having the camera affix to his character during fight sequences, but though most of the narrative is through Trace’s vindictive narrative, a cascading effect of his destruction brings one of his nemesis’s into reactive defense. Fisk, Benedict Hardie from the upcoming remake of “The Invisible Man” that’s also directed by Whannell, is a mysterious soldier of fortune whose backstory, that salivates at the tip of the tongue to be told, is only sampled at best with his cybernetic implants or why he was even chosen to be a deadly, robotic killing machine. Perhaps Fisk’s backstory, and those of his fellow veteran comrades, are another misrepresentation or the maltreatment of veterans by conglomerate, privately owned tech and weapon companies that lean more toward involuntary experimentation rather over anything else that’s an allegory of owning a person, a piece of property, as we also see with STEM attached to Grey Trace’s spinal cord. “Upgrade” rounds out with performances from Melanie Vallejo, Harrison Gilbertson (“Haunt”), Betty Gabriel (“Get Out”), Kai Bradley, and Simon Maiden as the voice of STEM.
Shot in urban Melbourne that’s quasi-reflective of the gritty streets of Chicago, Leigh Whannell aimed for a fatalistic mystery that breaks down relationship barriers and sustains a punitive jurisdiction of grime. Whannell surely achieves the desired affect that goes from a classy futuristic society to the bottom barrel of human existences that have been tainted by the dark side of tech including addiction and dangers of being fully aware as a sanctioned being. “Upgrade” capitalizes on every inch of its capital to enlarge the quality of a miniature budget and utilizes local talent, who, aside from Logan Marshall-Green, never wane from their unnatural American English accents, to offer heartfelt human performances despite their mechanical transitions. “Upgrade” isn’t “Robocop” or “Nemesis,” but rather more “Terminator” where organic and inorganic don’t exactly coincide to benefit as a single entity. Unlike the autonomous killing machine portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, “STEM” acts like a computer virus working off commands, coding, and complex algorithms to infiltrate and deploy executions to subverse the man over the machine and Whannell’s concept brilliantly contextualizes that dynamic without having too much exposition to divulge and is easily computed without having to be deciphered from binary code.
Coming November 18th is Second Sight Film’s limited edition Blu-ray release of “Upgrade” presented in full HD, 1080p, and clocks in at 100 minutes under a region B UK coding. Unfortunately, a screener disc was provided for review and so I will not be critiquing the video or audio quality at this time so this review is solely about the film only. A static menu including chapters were available on the disc as well as bonus features including a commentary by writer-director Leigh Whannell, a new Second Sights’ interview with the director about his envisioning and how it came to fruition, more new interviews with producer Kylie Du Fresne, cinematographer Stefan Duscio, editor Andy Canny, and fight choreographer Chris Weir. All the interviews showcase depth with the material to their respective roles and opinions about “Upgrade.” Don’t think it necessary to refer filmmaker Leigh Whannell as the “Saw” guy now that “Upgrade” has completely overshadowed the franchise in a single sitting entertained with action, gore, and a heart-rendering story. Surely to be Whannell’s break out film from the horror genre.