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.
Police detective Eric Hughes and his pregnant American wife Katrina strive to find their own place and withdraw from Eric’s father’s home. A hot tip leads them to small, slightly rundown, midwives maternity facility just out on the rural outskirts of Crystal Springs. With help from their friends and a lot of elbow grease, Eric and Katrina rehab the structure into their dream home to settle down in hopes to raise their first born, but Katrina quickly discovers that her dream house is more like the house from hell when shadowy figures suddenly appear through the walls with an apparition of a midwife nurse bellowing, “Give me Scarlett!” – the name of Katrina’s unborn child. The Hughes turn to the Church to plead for assistance and an unorthodox demonologist, hearing their call for help, tends to their aid in hopes to cease the languishing torment, but rushing into the situation, eager to rid the supernatural forces from plaguing the Hughes, has escalated the pending doom for their unborn child.
“Out of the Shadows” is the 2017 released, ghostly-demonic horror from Australia, directed and co-written by Duncan “Dee” McLachlan along with co-writer Rena Owen (“The Last Witch Hunter”) from a story by Eric Nash. McLachlan’s atmospherics can compete with the best, toying with the shadowy figures passing behind frosted windows and door panes in a glimpse of a moment, demonic tongue ripping through the ears of the latched upon victim that is Katrina, and conjuring up vivid and haunting figures that are airy and grim. All of which is backed by sound cinematography by Viv Scanu in creating a personality, essentially giving breath, toward the Hughes home of destined damnation. Set location speaks for itself being a countryside, rundown hovel, but the innards bare an unsecured unsettling with many windows in a well ventilated structure fenced around by obscuring foliage that creates a gloomy prison for a tormented Katrina.
Kendal Rae stars as the stalked Katrina Hughes who goes from happy-go-lucky to a panicky mess in less than sixty seconds from the first inkling of trouble. Rae has a fine performance being the frightened house wife to the never-at-home husband, but that inability to transition, with time, Katrina’s slow burn into insanity or supernatural plunder is a blight on her performance. That never-at-home and naive detective husband finds an actor as the first feature film for Blake Northfield. Northfield’s has naivety down pat with Eric’s dismissive attitude and a penchant for not caring. Eric and Katrina seek the help from a renegade exorcist Linda Dee (Lisa Chappell) whose a biker relative of Father Joe Phillips (“Matrix’s” Helmut Bakaitis) with a checkered past and on thin ice with the Catholic Church for practicing unauthorized exorcisms, but that’s about how far the script takes us when delving into Linda Dee’s backstory. Jake Ryan, Jim Robison, and “Alien: Covenant’s” Goran D. Kleut, as the Hat-man Demon, round out the remaining cast.
As with the Linda Dee character, a noticeably uncomfortable underdevelopment of major roles put divots into the, what should have been, a cut and dry storyline whose only complexity would be if Katrina’s harrowing ghostly encounters are caused by either a sudden loneliness with her husband leaving her by herself for work, the fluctuation of pregnancy hormones, or an acute combination of both. Dee’s wavering stance with the Church, and also with her uncle, is hardly touched upon with brief exposition and doesn’t convey the severity of her actions that warrant being on the outs with the Catholic officials. Concurrently, Katrina suffers with a tangent subplot with unspoken tension between her and her State side mother that never gets explored, leaving the scenes left detached like an unhinged satellite orbiting the planetary story.
Umbrella Entertainment releases the Bronte Pictures produced “Out of the Shadows” onto DVD that’s presented in an 2.35:1 widescreen. Image quality has some nice outlined details without sizable DNR, especially during night sequences in the midsts of constructing a formidable shadow army. Though tinted in more of a blue and yellow hue, the overall color palette is pleasing, even if staged like a “Saw” film. The computer generated effects are where the details go awry dipping toward a softer side that perhaps exhibits the production value. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack has no defining qualms with a even spread of low and high level ranges to where even the muttering demonic chanting is audible. There are no bonus material and the DVD doesn’t even have a static menu for guidance as the movie plays as soon as the opening credits roll. “Out of the Shadows” has a premise that’s been through the horror mill before, but director Dee McLachlan holds the thrilling line, maintaining a collectively strong start to finish to only stray from one or two key subplots that would wholeheartedly tie the entire film together.
Her night was supposed to be a wonderful occasion of celebration, a night to showcase her lustrous career as an established actress, a night where she was set to receive her crowning lifetime achievement award, but when the gowned Amanda stepped into a luxurious, fully-loaded limousine, the night that was to be a collective jubilee of the last twenty-years of Amanda’s life will be turned into a terror ride of unspeakable acts in the name of pure hatred. Once inside, the limousine’s inescapable locks detainee Amanda as a voice behind a voyeuristic camera commands her every subversive move and a sadistic chauffeur uses pain to thwart any of Amanda’s attempts of refusal in on an interrogation on four hellish wheels.
“The Glass Coffin,” aka “El ataúd de cristal” is a 2016 Spanish thriller from first time feature film director Haritz Zubilaga and co-written with Aitor Eneriz. From the moment Amanda steps into the limousine built like a tank, Zubilaga’s film goes from zero to sixty in a matter of minutes with thick tension and high horsepower suspense. “The Glass Coffin” is a depraved film. This isn’t a sugar-coated stuck in a glass box Hollywood thriller like “Phone Booth.” Oh no. Zubilaga and Eneriz hitch your emotions on a tow bar and drag them through the filthy muck without as so much of a care. Is this a game like Jigsaw would construct in “Saw?” No traps or snares here, but there’s an ominous shroud of mystery behind Amanda’s captor that could certainly give Jigsaw a run for his money. “The Glass Coffin,” in fact, goes more in tune with Joel Schumacher’s “Phone Booth” when considering the villain. Well, more like a Eurotrash, alternate version of “Phone Booth” antagonist anyway because aside from deriving the guilt and the sin from Amanda, there’s a sleaziness about the captor whose presence becomes more and more gothic the closer we learn more about them on top of their already extreme methods in the right-the-wrong stance.
Very similar to most films with a slim-to-no cast, like the Ryan Reynolds’ thriller “Buried, “The Glass Coffin” fits the bill as a one actor film. Paola Bontempi stars as the targeted starlet Amanda and the Canary Islands born actress musters enough courage to accept such a punishing role where her character’s humility and pride stems from a base layered motivation in not wanting to become the masked Chauffeur’s punching bag. Amanda goes from high time to gutter low in an ugly show of stripping moralities and ethics in order to reveal one true self. A pivot does occur, turning the shredding of facade into plain and simple revenge that becomes the flashy bullet points of European horror and Bontempi changes with it in one fluid motion of character revival and redemption.
The diabolical game is, well, diabolical and sincerely rich in providing an attractive story, but the film doesn’t go without it’s problems. Whether lost in the Spanish translation or just simply unexplained, an opaque mystery clouds Amanda’s captors, especially with the maniac Chauffeur and his bizarre relationship with the planning perpetrator, that puts a sour afterthought into analyzing “The Glass Coffin.” The Chauffeur was one realistic element of an intriguing conglomerate that tipped the ice berg of sinister deplorability and I was yearning for more of that; instead the game turned, the plot transformed, and “The Glass Coffin” took an approach that routed far into left field. Not a bad route to take as, like much of Zubilaga’s film, the moment had me at an astonished state as the film continued to keep me guessing what was going to occur next.
MVDVisual and Synergetic Films distributes the Basque Films production, “The Glass Coffin,” onto DVD home video. Short in giving any sort of physical or emotion breaks, the 77-minute runtime feature is presented in a vibrantly engrossing widescreen presentation and while at times soft on the auxiliary background, the image quality is flashy and sharp surrounding Amanda. Darker scenes in the tail end lose quite a bit of definition that makes eyeing the moment difficult to capture. The Spanish 2.0 stereo mix does the job and profusely invigorates the voice behind the camera, a voice made of nightmares and all that horrifying in the world. The English subtitles sync well, but I spotted a couple of typos along the runtime. There are zero extras on this release and even though a smidgen of behind-the-scenes material would have been curious to view, the film is a simple bliss. “The Glass Coffin” arches over the niceties and lands right smack into obscenity to destabilize integrity in a cruel ride of exploitation. I wanted more, the unfiltered, fully unadulterated, story of Amanda and her polar opposite antagonist, but I’ll settle for the Cliff Notes version. For now.
Elliot, Sasha, and John move into an old manor home just off the university’s campus. The tight knit three friends stumble upon a tattered nightstand with scribbled nonsense inside the drawer and underneath the incoherent writing and scratched into the wood is The Bye Bye Man. Once you hear the name, a searing imprint has been made into the mind, opening up a layer within the universe that invites a grim reaper-like figure to come horrifically collect individuals who have been infected with the name. The mysterious malevolence will impose hallucinations, or tricks, upon the mind to induce others to commit evil acts on another and will stop at nothing until those who know his name are either end up dead or spread his vileness. For Elliot, Sasha, and John, their close relationships will be tested, they’re bodies will be challenged, and their minds will be altered in a race against the clock in order to beat death, to defeat The Bye Bye Man.
“The Bye Bye Man” is an Universal Pictures and STX Entertainment distributed boogeyman concept from 1995’s “The Last Supper” director Stacy Title. Title, who hasn’t been active for about ten years since her last directorial, helms the project written by her husband, an appropriately named Jonathan Penner, who also had a co-starring role in “The Last Supper.” The inspiration stems from a collection of horrific tales from Robert Damon Schneck’s “The President’s Vampire: Strange-but-True Tales of the United States of America,” but “The Bye Bye Man” borrows heavily from well-crafted horror brethren too, birthing a mythological personification of death that doesn’t wield a scythe, but rather being a master, underneath a dark hooded cloak, to a hellish beast that munches on the faces of The Bye Bye Man’s victims. “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Final Destination,” and a little bit of “Scream” become the selected examples that are the genetic makeup of TItle and Penner’s film, but doesn’t grossly rip from the said works, two of which are the late Wes Cravens masterpieces. Instead, Jonathan Penner reconfigures the nightmare man, a modern day Freddy Krueger type stalking every soul during the day and night hours, whom establishes his own brand of Rube Goldberg deaths through deadly vision inflictions that pray upon a human’s moral subconscious. “Don’t say it. Don’t think it” sets as the 2017 film’s tagline with the notion that perhaps little white lies are, literally, lifesavers or that the truth can be hurtful, and or knowledge can be powerful, but can also lead to your own demise.
“Ouija’s” Douglas Smith succumbs to his lead role of Elliot, an educated and patient young man who seems to have everything despite tragic misfortune that’s whisked through the character development. From friends, to a supportive brother, to a loving girlfriend, Smith transition seamlessly to languishing burden during a spotlight scene with co-star Carrie-Anne Moss (“Matrix”) that’s raw and cuttingly empathetic. The story centers around Elliot, but Sasha and John have pivotable relationships to Elliot, two essential roles given to two British actors, former girl of Prince Harry, Cressida Bonas, and television actor Lucien Laviscount. Both Bonas and Laviscount expensed drab performances, mechanically and, often, monotonically coming and going from scene-to-scene without mingling well into the rest of the film’s grim and dire trimmed overalls that basically left Smith out to pick up the slack. Along with Carrie-Anne Moss, who always seems to be typecast in a women of power role and, in this case, a detective, “The Bye Bye Man” sports other veterans of both horror and general film, but; instead, take a backseat to a younger generation of actors. “HellBoy’s” Doug Jones silently strolls through one of the easiest prosthetically garbed performances of his illustrious career as the titular character, genre stable Leigh Whannell (“Saw”) commits to a haunting performance as a murder-suicide martyr, and the legendary Faye Dunaway portrays a longtime widow of the aforementioned madman. Michael Trucco (“Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled”), Jenna Kanell, Cleo King (“Hood of Horror”), and Erica Tremblay round out the supporting cast.
Universal picking up a horror title resembling an infantile kids feature and releasing it theatrically might with relatively unknown, mostly non-American cast, will scratch some questioning heads, but with a well oiled supporting cast consisting of many years of guild service, a director, despite being inactive for many years, maintaining a sensible and visionary eye, and a story, aside from a few underdevelopments, that captivates with edge of your seat scares and with next moment eagerness, “The Bye Bye Man” has great potential. With smoothing out details of Elliot’s and The Bye Bye Man’s backstories and construing more of a slow burn method when getting the characters involved with the ‘don’t think it, don’t say it’ villain name, Universal would have increased their gross profits by double and the world would be happy once again. Unfortunately, that scenario was not the case as credits bombarded “The Bye Bye Man” as about as borrowed and as hokey as any low-budget horror film can be, but “The Bye Bye Man” surpassed the production budget by triple and to me, someone who generally has the same stance as most credits, that’s a win for Stacy Title and company.
The Intrepid Pictures and Los Angeles Media Fund production “The Bye Bye Man” makes a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment debut on a two-version unrated Blu-ray and DVD combo. The MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p Blu-ray disc contains a razor sharp image in the 1.85:1 presentation. Depth and shadows phenomenally define the space, especially in closer quarters and the ariel shots. A motif of bleak black and grim grey is consistent throughout, creating a tone through the darker shades, with vivid hues to gloriously fend for themselves amongst the achromatic reel landscape. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound doesn’t feign in the balance category with dialogue prevalence not short of excellence and, much like other atmospheric horror, the spooky elements are outlined in various levels from a coin dropping to a train horn. Bonus features are surprisingly zilch with no extras on either format; I guess there wasn’t much to say during or post-film. In all, “The Bye Bye Man” is a total hack with plot holes. A completely borrowed and revamped product with a terribly childish title promising nothing to the genre, but that doesn’t necessarily mean “The Bye Bye Man” can’t be entertaining, providing a wicked sense of humor and a morbid final destination outlook with unexpected casting choices and a barely bordering PG-13 horror rendering.
Seven close friends use “Screen It” to live stream online a drug and alcohol bender while partying hard at a vacant swanky home. When Brie awakes in a quiet, dark room of the luxurious house with no sign of her friends, she believes an odd prank is being played at her expense, but when she receives a frantic call from one of her frightened friends trapped inside a wooden box, Brie becomes their only hope of survival. She realizes that her six friends were abducted and buried in wooden boxes around the city, all of which contain it’s own deadly nightmare coinciding with each teen’s personal life. To heighten the tension, their fates are live streamed on the internet for the world to witness. Brie must connect the dots, find the pattern, and save the survivors before they all perish alone.
Australian survival horror “6 Plots” capitalizes on popular teens being terrorized and murdered by a game mastering and mysterious sadist. The story, devised along with live streaming online the six teens’ fates, stems from director Leigh Sheehan and was commercially penned by the newcomer Tim C. Patterson. Alice Darling stars as Brie, the girl left untouched to save her shallowly engrained friends, along with “Wolf Creek 2” star Ryan Corr, Penelope Mitchell (“The Vampire Diaries”), Eliza Taylor, Emily Wheaton, Joey Coley-Sowry, Damien Harrison, Andrew Clarke, and PJ Lane. “6 Plots” introduces characters to face their fears, putting them up against a destined wall of death if unable to overcome challenges inspired by their own lives. Though the challenges are no where near the legacy of the “Saw” games where players have an opportunity to win their freedom themselves by sacrificing something dear to them and are constructed with their good fortune resting in the hands on one sole person, Sheehan’s race against the clock suspense thriller loses steam, never establishing momentum to strike the edge-of-your-seat nerve.
Conceptually, placing unconscious disrespectful teens claustrophobic coffin structures and strategically scattering them along a small island coastal town only to direly drown their body and minds in a game of their own primal fears sounds amusingly devious. To pull off a grand recipe of intertwining cruelty, time would be the most difficult obstacle to hurdle and the plan’s organization and successfulness was ultimately determined on whether or not Brie and her friends were having a party at some random swanky house, which was on the verge of possibly being canceled priorly stated by one of the characters. Time spatially speaking, getting all six of her friends completely setup in boxes miles a part from each other would have taken most of the night, pending on how many hands were involved, and the story indulges a, perhaps, 3 to 4 hour workable time frame from each of seven passing out unconsciously due in part of whatever their drugs were laced with to the time they wake up alone in a confinement of darkness with only an element of personal fear accompanying them. In short, and this might spoil the end for a few readers, The Flash was able to accomplish casket coordination without much hassle. Just kidding…
The biggest issue with “6 Plots” is the story never really comes to a head, never really providing that spark-lit surge of intensity at the point of apex. Instead, the course of action flounders at a lifeless flat line when a moment of clarity for Brie dawns upon her and she figures out the bedeviled jokester’s pentagram pattern, simply by hooking up to the internet and plotting lines onto charts of the island of possible casket locations. Brie made their tormentor’s Russian signal jamming plan the most elementary scheme to deconstruct and solve to date, but that’s due in part to poor character development as well. We know absolutely zilch about Brie, except for the facts that the daredevil rides a motorcycle off road, gives the local authoritative putz a run for his money, and likes to partake in drugs and alcohol. That’s basically all the information we’re given about Brie’s character and, somehow, a character who traditionally would have been nixed right about now was able to unravel a plan much too elaborate for her primitive Netgear hookup intelligence. Not even her tech savvy friend, Marty, could keep up with Brie’s uncanny genius, remarking a couple instances where Brie outthought his intellect about their predicament.
Sheehan’s directorial style hinges upon a fair amount on the horrendously oppressive alternative music soundtrack and mawkish scenes of melodramatics with an example being after witnessing the horrifying demise of one of the teens on live stream, Sheriff Gary awkwardly drops the phone and hastily crosses the room to give Brie a clutching embrace as they both sob in each others’ arms. I’ve seen less over the top performances in soap operas. Certainly a first where melodrama meets tech horror, I found the technology to be sorely obsolete, especially for a film produced only four years ago. “6 Plots” was for sure a champion for Apple products, focal pointing on MacBooks and a Safari internet browser, but, yet, iPhones are rarely used and, instead, a healthy combination of Brie’s Blackberry and Sheriff Gary’s flip phone ultimately saves the day, proving that the latest and greatest tech gear can’t save you from a casket and can’t aid you in murdering people any faster.
Lionsgate home entertainment label delivers the 87 minute Eagle I production onto DVD and Digital Video with a widescreen 2.35:1 presentation and an English 5.1 Dolby Digital audio mix. A high point of this “6 Plots” DVD is the video quality, though now fairly standard with current films in their home release formats. Image quality pops with detail and clarity bringing out the worst specifics in the poorly illustrated representation of the antagonist on ancient cell phones. Audio, again, lies in the realm of modern day conventions, albeit the down under accents are sometimes difficult to decipher. From the start, survival horror “6 Plots” quickly snuffs itself out from ever materializing into, what could have been, a gripping thriller by burying the best parts under a 6-foot deep layer of indigestible fluff that’s rudimentary right to the bone.