Kristen and James return home late from a wedding reception to James’ isolated family home off the main road. The joyous occasion becomes an afterthought when an unprepared Kristen declines James’s subtle engagement proposal outside the reception venue, straining their once jovial relationship into uncertainty of where it stands now. Before the couple discuss relationship next steps, a strange knock on the door around 4am becomes the initial stirrings of a clouted atmosphere brimming of paranoia, fear, and confusion when three masked strangers menacingly toy with the couple. The fight for survival in the dark early morning hours will determine their fate against strangers compelled to kill them just for the sake of killing.
Call me 12 years behind as I catch up on getting caught up into the brutal home invasion thriller, “The Strangers,” from writer-director Bryan Bertino. “The Strangers” has been panned by critics for being nihilistic and fraudulent with no plot twist In a premise that pits two innocent people against three violent hungry intruders, finding common ground with Wes Craven’s more sadist-driven “Last House on the Left” and the Charles Mansion murders of the late 1960s while also pulling harrowing experiences from Bertino’s own small town suburbia. As Bertino’s debut film, “The Strangers” has become something of a cult film over the years with discussion upon Bertino’s themes, especially the act of pure random violence upon another person, that has become more relevant today than ever. Universal Pictures also saw an intriguing quality illuminating in it’s filmic soul and farming it out the spec to their offshoot, genre label, Rogue Pictures, in association with Vertigo Entertainment, Mandate Pictures, Intrepid Pictures, and Mad Hatter Entertainment.
Bertino’s script attracted it’s leading lady in “Heavy” and “Armageddon’s” Liv Tyler who had to stretch her vocal range to the max in order to scream her head off like her life depended on it. As the disenchanted Kristen, Tyler brings beauty and tenderness to the heartrending woe of the newfangled corroding relationship Kristen and James are experiencing while serving as a stark contrast to the barbarism oppressed upon her. Opposite Tyler, and equally as disenchanted stricken in character, is “Underworld’s” Scott Speedman as Kristen’s beau, James, who difficulty to express himself in an unpredictable moment is greatly felt. Tyler and Speedman exact a crystal clear your head moment of awkward silence, frustration, disappointment, and heart ache that’s suddenly ripped from them, stolen in a away, by masked psychopaths. We’re never privy to their faces, keeping the mystery alluring and suspenseful, but the three actors, Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, and Laura Margolis, exude a haunting and chilling performance of random acts of violence.
While performance wise is solid, the character logic struggles slightly for a viewer to embrace their actions seriously. I find that when the couple, being the only two terrorized people isolated in a quiet house, split up thinking the act as a sensible way of survival and is completely logical when, in reality, is hell to the no it isn’t! Three versus two together is better odds than three versus two split up, but, thinking outside the box, what if the split is emblematic of their dissolving relationship; no longer will Kristen and James do things together that make them more stronger and more accomplished as a pair. “The Strangers” can be indicative of many themes, whether instilled by Bertino or not who had complete control over the script and direction. Is there a theme of nihilism? Yes. Is there a theme of grim, unprovoked violence? Yes. “The Strangers” purposefully deviates from conventional cinematic means and outcomes, leaving that gutted feeling of dread and psychological torment in an unsullied, overwrought terror film. That uncomfortable pit in the back of your throat is the thick tension your unable to swallow in every moment of breathtaking fear; a feeling that’s very real when the hot flash sweat, producing adrenaline beads down your hair-raised skin, senses danger. The sensation is the welcoming byproduct Bertino’s “The Strangers” fosters toward being a legacy cult film, pivotal by all means as a rightful modern horror.
For his first feature run, Bryan Bertino has captured fear in a bottle with is shocking home invasion thriller, “The Strangers,” that’ll receive the Blu-ray treatment from a Second Sight limited edition release come September 28th. The UK release will be a region B playback format and presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio that’ll include the theatrical cut and the extended cut of the film. Limited to only 3,000 copies, the package will include a soft cover book with new essays by Anton Bitel and Mary Beth McAndrews plus stills and behind-the-scenes images and also include a poster with new artwork. Tomandandy’s floating and distinctive one tones, stretched and strung with the occasional interweaving string and percussion, score is not anything I’ve heard from them being unlike their sonorous scores from “47 Meters Down” or “Resident Evil: Afterlife” that meld a static-electronic rock, sometimes injected with adrenaline, to the action or inaction of the scene. Since a Blu-ray screener disc was provided for review, there will be no critique on the A/V quality. However, the screener did come with special features, including new interviews with director Bryan Bertino, editor Kevin Greutert, actress Liv Tyler, and the masked Pin-Up girl, Laura Margolis; however, be aware and warned that all the interviews segue into the sequel, “The Strangers: Prey at Night,” so there might be some spoiler moments for those who haven’t seen the sequel…like myself. Plus, rehashed special features from previous releases that dive into the same material the interviews provided, but also some exhibits shot locations, technical challenges, and some other brief interviews with cast and crew. A pair of deleted scenes are also available, but, surprisingly, the release won’t have the cut extended climatic finale you hear a lot of about in the new interviews and was in fact filmed, which would give the masked characters more depth into their methodology. Yet, the overall bonus material is vast with wealth of insight from the lengthy new interview material coursing through ever facet from the story’s genesis to the current reception of a film after little more than a decade ago. “The Strangers” is an advocate for the underdog independent narrative told through the eyes of a major studio willing to market and take a chance on pure terror over just putting butts in theater seats.
Richard, a wealthy businessman, and Jen, his young, candy arm mistress, helicopter in onto Richard’s desert retreat house. While his wife and children are at home, Richard plans to spend his time away relishing a pleasurable weekend that involves relaxing by the outdoor firepit, swimming in the infinity pool, being sultry with Jen, and do a bit of hunting along the mountains, canyons, and riverbeds. When Richard’s associates, Stan and Dimitri, arrive a day early, a party filled night rapidly ensues, but events turn sour when Jen is brutally attacked the next day and Richard plans to snuff out the scandal before it unravels to ruin him. Unwilling to cooperate with a coverup, Jen is nearly murdered by her three attackers only to arise like the rebirth of the Phoenix, igniting a vengeful fire inside her as she uses everything she has at her disposal to finish what they started.
In a day and age when the slightest bit of a woman’s attention can explode into a vile reaction of testosterone warped misguidance and it’s the woman who is shamed as the accosted criminal being barked at aggressively by the unequivocal fearful and condemning voices of the male species, it’s movies like Coralie Fargeat’s action-packed “Revenge” that symbolizes woman’s resiliencies against men’s efforts in a show of violent force that’s “First Blood” without John Rambo, but rather with a scorned princess for retributive capital justice. “Revenge” is the French filmmaker’s first full-length penned and directed feature film that’s one gritty and bloody grindhouse vindictive sonovabitch, a pure punch to the throat, and a direct message to misogyny everywhere. Filmed in the Morocco desert during Winter, the small cast is swallowed by the vastly arid landscape of transfixing cruelty, a synonymous parallel to the feat the heroine Jen is drawn to task. It’s also a feat that Fargeat managed to salvage to finally release a rape-revenge thriller backed by a conglomerate of production firms and financiers to stand with a film from a first time director whose treatment offers up maltreatment of women, such as the rape, along with the savagery, the concept of revenge, and ridiculous amounts of blood. M.E.S. Productions, Monkey Pack Films, Charades, Logical Pictures, Nextas Factory and Umedia are just to name a few of the production companies to be supporting capital.
With a role embodying the symbolic brutalization of physical and mental rape, a role of complete loneliness in a fatal skirmish against their attackers, and in a role forsaken in the face of death only to be reborn from the ashes of their former self, Matilda Lutz’s fully charged capacity to tackle such a demanding performance is beyond praiseworthy, scrapping the timid traits from Jen’s ravaged glossy persona and replacing with a rigid exterior ready and willing to combat to the death. The Italian born Lutz has to go through a metamorphosis and refashion Jen to be able to differentiate from her more bubbly first half self as the easy kill or the disposable male plaything. In a twisted turn of events, Jen’s mortal adversaries have every advantage to douse out Jen’s existence: gear, guns, vehicles, clothes, water, fuel, numbers, etc. Yet, despite all the advantages, the desert, much like Jen, is unforgiving as it is bare. Richard (Kevin Janssens), Stan (Vincent Colombe), and Guillaume Bouchede (Dimitri) exude the utmost confidence their grip around Jen’s throat. Janssens’ fortifies as the rigorous cutthroat, a misogynistic philanderer, determined to save his own skin no matter the cost while Colombe’s Stan is a retracting coward with regretful impulses. Colombe’s brings the comedy to a grimly tale and positions Stan to be the teetering villain tarnished by his guilt of nearly killing Jen, but never apologizes to being the catalytic rapist that initiates the whole debacle. Bouchede supplements with his divestment to charm as the overweight, do-nothing witness to save Jen from Stan’s seizing urges. As Dimitri, Bouchede stalls his typical niceties to be the silent violator who can open up the flood gates of aggression when transgression warrants it.
“Revenge” has an ultra-violent and super-synth finish chapping with multiple motifs of a rebirth theme and supplies a hefty bloodletting of incorporeal measures. Knocking it out of the park in her first feature film, Fargeat’s cauterizes the unnerving serious tone with alleviated black comedy of the bloodiest kind. The roundabout endgame chase comes to mind, involving a frazzled Jen and a wounded, but indomitable Richard in a merry-go-round of a shotgun standoff is some of the best editing work of fast and ferocious content I’ve seen in some time while still able to vitalize a transparent sense of what’s occurring. However, not all the slick editing is flawless. Some minor inconsistencies in the editing are noticeable and while these moments of lapse are not detrimental or pivotal to the story, they reflect Fargeat’s challenges of making a hyper-stylized action-thriller in her freshman full-length feature. In a sense, everything Fargeat’s deploys positions “Revenge” into a surreal tonality, glamorized for those thirsty for blood gushing in a canyon-vast desert bristled with rape and payback where a mere four players in this ebb and flow game of killer combat chess can effortlessly locate each other, but one can always find their prey by following their blood trail, another motif that continues to pop up that speaks metaphors of their life blood is the very object gives them away in the end.
Giving the limited edition treatment that it deserves, Second Sight Films’s Blu-ray release of “Revenge” is a mouthwatering narcotic of raging cathexis and while the Blu-ray BD-R can’t be technically critiqued, the LE release offers HD 1080p transfer of the original, 2.39:1 aspect ratio and sports an English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. While Fargeat might be inspired by Lynchian themes, the cinematography work by Robrecht Heyvaert also resembles “Pitch Black” director David Twohy’s films with making something small larger than life and a particular chase scene involving all four characters at the edge of a canyon stroke a familiar chord with Twohy’s “A Perfect Getaway.” There were Second Sight Films’ exclusive bonus features included on the disc, featuring new interviews with director Carolie Fargeat and star Matilda Lutz (entitled “Out for Blood”) an interview with Dimitri actor Guillaume Bouchede (entitled “The Coward”), a interview with Robrecht Heyvaert (entitled “Fairy Tale Violence”), a new interview with composer Robin Coudert and the synth sounds of “Revenge,” and a new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger, author and editor of Diabolique. The release is sheathed inside a rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Adam Stothard as well as a poster and a new soft cover book with new writings by Mary Beth McAndrews and Elena Lazic Overall, “Revenge” received a monster packaged release ready for the taking on May 11th. “Revenge” destroys toxic masculinity and breathes a vindictive hope from the fiery embers of rebirth and destruction.
Set in conflict of the Iran-Iraq war, the young and educated Shideh living in war-frightened Tehran becomes forced to succumb to patriarchal dogma after participating in a revolution against Iran’s standing principals. Her husband’s conscription sends his medical experience to the battle front while she settles into her role as a stay at-home mother to their young daughter and despite pleas from her husband, the stubborn Shideh will not vacate her apartment building home even when the threat of an Iraqi attack is imminent. When a dud ballistic missile crashes into the apartment about them, nearly breaking through their ceiling, the fear of a sinister presence circulates amongst the tenants that drives them one-by-one from the building with the prospect of an Iraqi attack to further motivate as a logical decider. An unsuperstitious Shideh remains until her daughter’s imagery whims and unwavering fever begin to form a more terrorizing atmosphere that even has her questioning the shadowy company of evil.
Not many horror films scare nowadays. “Under the Shadow” is not one of those films. The debut feature film of writer-director Babak Anvari posses a rare commodity of grueling fear set inside an already tense backdrop of the 1980’s Iran-Iraqi war. Anvari, the Tehran born Iranian nationality who was engulfed religiously in the culture, borrowed and rendered his from his family’s stories of supernatural pre-Islamic demons whisking through the wind toward those swimming in sorrow and fear; those demons were also labeled djinns. As a child born in the 80’s, Anvari had to rely and family to obtain a sense of the anxious air suffocating those taut by potential missle strikes as well as political and social punitive measures going against the grain. The UK based independent production company, Wigwam Films, financed the BAFTA winner for an Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer as well as receiving other nomination nods in other categories, serving as one of young production company’s shining stars early in the tenure.
Wrought by the explosive squabbles of two sovereign nations and incepted with archaic folklore, Shideh’s bound and torn between reality and the prospect of superstition, a role dutifully played by another Iranian born, Narges Rashidi, whose family moved to Berlin and she studied acting, scoring a minor role in the motion picture adaptation of the science fiction television series, “Aeon Flux,” and in the 2009 comedy-horror “Must Love Death.” Rashidi courts Sheideh approvingly with sincere strife over how women serving beneath men in 1980’s Iran as well as struggling to overcome that internal conflict as the mirror image of herself, meaning her daughter, when a phantom prowler is afoot. Portraying Shideah’s daughter, Dorsa, and the frequent link between the Djinn’s world and her own is Avin Manshadi in her debut performance. Manshadi’s round cheeks and doughy eyes set upon a physique stilling lingering some ounces of baby fat has little range, but most creepy kids and in creepy kid horror films rarely do. Rashidi and Manshadi fend well for themselves as the sole two characters cornered by war and Shideh’s personal vendetta against her country, her husband, and even her daughter to prove she isn’t useless as the motif lets on. “Under the Shadow” rounds out with Bobby Naderi (“Bright”), Aram Ghasemy, Soussan Farroknia, Behi Djanati Atai, and Ray Haratian (“A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”).
“Under the Shadow” finds itself in a subgenre nearly all it’s own as the variety of djinn-horror anemically pops up every so often as an unpopular and uncoiled viper, unlike the antagonist powerhouses of zombies and ghosts that’ve reigned supreme over the last two decades, and though Anvari’s film shares little with Robert Kurtzman’s demonic djinn of 1997’s “Wishmaster,” “Under the Shadow” has more in common with the late Tobe Hooper’s last film, entitled simply Djinn, before his death. Both are built on the substructure of an Arabic/Muslin mythology, set on an apartment building locale, and exhibit the malevolency side of the djinn, but Babak Anvari accomplishes a great feat on his very first attempt – a stiffly frightening air of a phenomenally harrowing horror story. Anvari patiently stacks blocks of tension, one on top of another, without a hint of quivering throughout the acts and what’s more astonishing is that all the acts deliver different notes prosed to detail that secures a simmering, shivering plot. To praise Anvari more, the young filmmaker leaves nothing to chance by closing with an open ending for the mind to assemble information and interpret the events; a classic directorial tool used by some of the greats.
Shuttering in the dark has never been so delectable with “Under the Shadow” inside a packed, limited edition Blu-ray from Second Sight Films. The LE runs with only 2000 copies sheathed inside a rigid slipcover with covert art by science fiction artist, Christopher Shy. Global horror aficionados will rejoice to learn that the UK BD disc is region free and presented in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, that’ll be available February 10th. Unfortunately, Second Sight Films provided a DVD-R Blu-ray screener so I’m unable to speak upon the video and audio aside from what’s already been stated. I will say the subtitles were accurate and timely paced. There were special features on the disc, including segmented interviews with director Babak Anvari, lead actress Narges Rashidi, producers Lucan Toh and Oliver Roskill, cinematographer Kit Fraser along with an audio commentary Babak Anvari and Jamie Graham and Anvari’s short film “Two and Two.” Press release also mentioned the release includes a soft cover book with new essays from Jon Towlson and Daniel Bird plus behind-the-scenes photos and concept illustrations and a poster featuring new artwork. “Under the Shadow” must be watched in the dark, alone, and with the volume up, maximizing the crawling chill down the spine and raising all the micro hairs on every square inch of skin.
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.