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“Upgrade” is the latest feature from Leigh Whannell. Surprisingly despite being a prolific horror screenwriter and co-creating two of the biggest horror franchises of the last 15 years in “Saw” and “Insidious”, this is only his second directorial feature.
Unlike a lot of his output, this film is not straight up horror instead it mashes up sci-fi, action, horror and even a bit of comedy too. You might think sticking all these elements would make the movie messy but Whannell manages to get away with it for the most part. That said if you have seen some of Whannell’s other work you will not be surprised by the level of nastiness on display.
The film starts with a neat touch with the production credits and the title being readout by a synthetic female voiceover, represented visually by sound waves. The story takes place in a near-future where technology controls nearly all aspects of life. It is a vision of the future that is both futuristic and retro as it calls to mind the look of various sci-fi actioners from the late 80’s/early 90’s, the film being particularly heavily indebted to Robocop.
The focus of the plot is technophobe Grey Trace (Marshall-Green), who spends his days repairing vintage cars for a dwindling clientele while his wife Asha (Vallejo) works for a tech company. After an idyllic opening between husband and wife, you know that tragedy is just around the corner. Right on cue, she is murdered and he is left paralyzed by a gang after the two survive a car crash. His only hope to walk again is an advanced experimental computer chip called STEM. The chip is provided by sinister tech billionaire Eron Keen (Gilbertson) who just so happen to be one of Trace’s clientele.
The chip, of course, not only allows Trace to walk but gives him superhuman reflexes and fighting skills. Meaning he can take revenge on his wife’s killers. As premises go it is one that has been seen a thousand times before. However, this is a movie that is more about execution than anything else and it does execute its action beats very well. There are several balletic and brutal fight sequences throughout that are as thrilling as they are entertaining. In fact, all the action choreography is excellent including a very well staged car chase near the end. The cinematography is also a real highlight with there being several visually sumptuous shots throughout the movie.
Character-wise it is hard to invest in anyone other than Trace himself. Trace might be your typical action hero in some regards but Marshall-Green manages to give him a depth and humour too. The only real issue with the character being the way he flip-flops from being terrified of what is happening to his body to a wise-cracking hero and back a little schizophrenically. Plot-wise it is nothing to write home about either but the film does deliver some nice twists near the very end.
Directed by: Jon Turteltaub
Starring: Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Winston Chao, Ruby Rose
Running Time: 113mins
The Meg is an odd film in many regards. Odd in that both director Turteltaub and star Statham openly complained that the film hitting screens is a watered down version of the original cut. The film is also odd because this is a big-budget blockbuster taking inspiration from mock-buster merchants Asylum. As let’s face this is just a bigger budget, slightly better-acted version of movies like Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus. There is also a cynicism to the movie as, like many recent blockbusters, it tries to pander to the Chinese market. Despite these issues, there is still plenty of fun to be had here.
The movie opens with an underwater rescue mission that goes awry. Statham is traumatized by the event after losing his two best friends and thinking he saw a Megalodon which nobody believes him about. The movie then cuts to five years later when Statham is called out of retirement to save his ex-wife who is trapped in a sub on the bottom of the sea being menaced by, you guessed it, a Megalodon.
We meet the rest of the characters in an underwater research facility. This being a summer blockbuster most of the characters are fairly stock like the asshole billionaire, the wise-cracking black guy, the young child who is smarter than all the adults, etc. Some of the characters do manage to stand out however. Other than Statham the two standouts are father-daughter scientists Zhang (Winston Chao) and Suyin (Bingbing Li). Suyin, in particular, manages to cut above the standard love interest character she is so clearly meant to be.
In the end, this is clearly Statham’s film. He steals pretty much all of the best lines as well as the best action sequences. Not that there is anything wrong with that as Statham is in fine form. There is also a lot of fun to be had with seeing him going one on one with a giant shark. The shark itself is well-rendered and proves an imposing threat. The movies action set-pieces also can’t be faulted, particularly the Sanya bay set finale.
The Meg is a stupid movie and knows it. The film probably could have pushed the boat out more in terms of gore and mayhem but it is still fun in the end.
Directed by: Coralie Fargeat
Starring: Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchède
Run Time: 108mins
Despite only being afforded a very limited release at the cinema Revenge is already one of the most talked about horror movies of 2018. This is not only because it is a rape-revenge movie, that most sordid and exploitative of all horror sub-genre, directed by a woman but also because it takes a more feminist twist on the sub-genre. This is a fact that is being celebrated, at least in some quarters, as quite ground-breaking indeed, although whether this is so is up for debate as there is certainly a bunch of stuff here borrowed from other movies with the director herself citing “Mad Max”, “Rambo” and “Kill Bill” as key influences. This may seem as surprising for a horror movie but it make sense once you have seen the film. In terms of other films that cover similar terrain you can see some influence from the likes of “Irreversible” and “Baise Moi”, however this movie is nowhere near as grim as either of those works. That being said, just because a film generously lifts from others does not mean it is of poor quality or that is does not have its own identity and this one more than proves it as it is excellent and stands on its own two feet.
The movie tells the story of Jen (Matilda Lutz), a young American girl who has been whisked away for a dirty weekend in the desert by her wealthy married lover Richard (Kevin Janssens). Their party is unceremoniously crashed when Richard’s two friends and business associates Stanley (Vincent Colombe) and Dmitiri (Guillaume Bouchède) arrive early for the group’s annual hunting trip. From the very moment Stanley and Dmitiri arrive there is a gut-wrenching tension as the viewer is immediately aware that only bad things await our heroine and director Fargeat wrings this tension for everything it is worth. Fargeat also makes the interesting decision to not make Jen a wallflower but a young girl who is playing with and flaunting her sexuality. This element is well employed when the rape does come, as the director uses it to make a (not subtle but entirely worthwhile) point about victim blaming culture. This is further illustrated when Jen’s rapist tries to sickeningly self-justify how she “wants it”.
This is only the start of Jen’s nightmare though as Richard shows his true colours when he tries to buy her silence. She then appears to be killed when trying to escape from the three men. I say appears as, of course, this is a rape-revenge movie and Jen must come back for her revenge. This is where the movie changes gears a little and it becomes more of an action-horror as our heroine tools up to hunt down her attackers while riding a motorbike through the vast desert landscape looking pretty cool indeed. It is at this point where the aforementioned influences of the likes of “Mad Max” and “Kill Bill” start to shine through. Also in the way Jen is miraculously reborn it seems somewhat akin to a superhero origin tale. This is not quite accurate though as even while she is taking her revenge she never feels like an invincible heroine scything through her foes, there is always a vulnerability and girlishness to the character. While she has few lines, Lutz, manages to convincingly convey both the gritty survivor and the vulnerable girl. The other actors generally play their part well too, particularly Colombe who convinces a slimy cowardly creep Stanley who is also probably the best written and most convincing of the three attackers.
Away from the central plot it must be mentioned that this film is exceptional on a technical level. It has been shot with a ton of visual flair and the editing is super-slick. There is bunch of scenes that are excellent in these terms but it is a hallucination sequence in the middle of the film that particularly stands out. Another thing the film has going for it is all the carnage in the film is played out to a pulsating Carpenter-esque soundtrack.
Overall: In an outstanding feature debut Coralie Fargeat has delivered probably the most fun rape-revenge movie you will ever see while subverting genre tropes along the way.