Tag Archives: Leigh Whannell

Upgrade (2018) Movie Review By Chauncey Telese 

Upgrade Review

Director: Leigh Whannell
Writer: Leigh Whannell
Stars: Logan Marshall-Green, Richard Anastasios, Rosco Campbell 

One of the best movie going experiences is going to a movie knowing little to nothing about it and being completely FLOORED. There was word of mouth about “Upgrade” and beyond the basic elevator pitch of “John Wick” meets “Robocop” I knew zero about it. Luckily it was playing at one of the theaters in my area and I decided to check it out. I should’ve known I was in good hands the minute the Blumhouse Productions banner came on the screen. From the very beginning it was unique. Instead of opening titles popping up on screen, the opening titles spoken and shown through soundwaves. It seemed to throw the audience off-balance and it makes “Upgrade” that much more effective. The story is simple but contains incredible world building, and some really fascinating ideas. The “John Wick”/”Robocop” description is apt but this movie also contains elements of “Blade Runner” and “Heart of Steel” from “Batman: The Animated Series”.

“Upgrade” takes place in the near future. Society is plugged in at all times. There are self-driving cars, smart homes, and law enforcement relies on drones to the point where they can remotely identify people based on the fillings in their teeth. Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) isn’t a fan. He’s an analog guy stuck in a digital world. He is a proud Luddite and technophobe. He is one of the many workers who essentially became obsolete once society underwent full automation. His only source of income revolves around restoring classic cars but only has one client, the tech billionaire Eron (Harrison Gilbertson). Grey’s wife Asha works at a tech company that specializes in robotic limbs for soldiers. He convinces her to go with him to drop off Eron’s latest car. Eron is an enigmatic figure. He’s almost a robot because he so rarely leaves his underground compound. He shows them a new chip he’s working on called STEM which would be embedded in a person and unlocks their potential. Grey of course is unimpressed because he sees another way in which the worker will get replaced.

On their way home their self-driving car goes berserk and they’re in an accident. Before help can arrive they’re confronted by a group of thugs that kill Asha and paralyze Grey. Grey is a quadriplegic and has given up on life and Detective Cortez (Betty Gabriel) can’t make any breakthroughs on finding out who killed Asha. Eron offers Grey the chance to rebuild his life by implanting STEM into his system. Grey reluctantly accepts and it allows him to walk again. STEM (voice of Simon Maiden) begins speaking to Grey and helps him begin his quest for revenge.

Logan Marshall-Green is impressive here. The film asks him to play several different gears. He transitions from gruff everyman, to John McClain level smart ass, to a Jackie Chan style reluctant ass kicker, and play a grieving widower. Marshall-Green weaves through these different modes effortlessly and often in the same scene. When he starts to understand what STEM is capable of he tries to process it all as best he can and the further the film goes along the more he becomes full of regret. The film could’ve easily made Grey become Charles Bronson in “Death Wish” but its narrow focus to tracking down his wife’s killers keep the film from embracing the uglier aspects of vigilante films. Simon Maiden’s voice over work is outstanding. He channels both Paul Bettany’s Jarvis in “Iron Man” and HAL-9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey”. When STEM is shown being planted into Grey it looks like a tick. STEM becomes more and more parasitic and drains Grey both physically and emotionally. The fight scenes are well choreographed and filmed. They are all close combat style and their intensity is felt. The audience had a visceral reactions to it in a way that the vast majority of action films don’t elicit.

“Upgrade” has a vision of the future that isn’t dystopic but more in line with how society might actually function. There is no city or year defined but it feels as though it’s in the near future. The police have constant drones on patrol, citizens have ID chips in their fillings, and the self-driving cars look like a more evolved form of a Prius. The smart houses seem like something Amazon or Google would one day produce. Yet, it doesn’t go full “Blade Runner” neon cityscape and instead looks like an urban area infused with more technology. There are still pockets of the city that are dirty and dangerous. The criminals that attack Grey have guns implanted in their bodies. The crack houses of this world are places where people pay money to be plugged into a VR world because as a hacker tells Grey, it’s less painful than the real world. There are areas where technology doesn’t exist such as The Old Bones bar that Grey visits to pursue a lead. This scene is smart both because it leads to a gruesome set piece but also because it shows the limits of STEM and Grey. The scene is also lit to show the moral dilemma Grey is experiencing but also the divide between where Grey ends and STEM begins.

The film also has a lot to say about society’s reliance on technology. The criminals have weapons and processors imbedded in their bodies. They see themselves as above humans and their own species that can sneeze and have nanobots kill someone through breathing. Humans are shown outsourcing all sorts of technology. The smart house can print pizza, the cars are self-driving, and in Grey’s case, revenge is even being outsourced to a machine. The dangers this represents are well documented here. The only two analog figures in this movie are Grey and Detective Cortez. She suspects Grey even when her advanced technology clears Grey yet her gut does not. Her police car is devoid of hackable computers and she routinely visits Grey despite police not doing their work face to face anymore. It’s telling that she becomes the hero of the film the further Grey succumbs to STEM. The ending is both a great twist and one that exists in conversation of “Ex Machina” which also the evolution of technology and what happens the more sentient they become. Writer-Director Leigh Whannell crafts a film that straddles the line between Paul Verhoeven style satire and Alex Garland meditation on technology all while working on a Blumhouse budget. He is an in house talent having been a writer on the “Insidious” (where he directed the third film) and “Saw” films. He has clearly learned how to craft action scenes from his collaborations with James Wan. “Upgrade” is a low budget action film that feels much bigger because the world building is incredible while being a narrowly focused narrative has a lot to say.

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015) Movie Review by Darrin Gauthier


Director: Leigh Whannell
Writers: Leigh Whannell,  Leigh Whannell (characters) 
Stars: Dermot Mulroney,  Stefanie Scott,  Angus Sampson 

A prequel set before the haunting of the Lambert family that reveals how gifted psychic Elise Rainier reluctantly agrees to use her ability to contact the dead in order to help a teenage girl who has been targeted by a dangerous supernatural entity.

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics 58%   Audience  52%

Why I watched it: Saw the first two, loved the first one and thought the second one was alright, not nearly as good as the first one but it had it’s moments.

Random Thoughts: As a rule I hate prequels, I find them a huge cash grab, everyone movie ever made could have a prequel the key is and this is big is there a story better than the one you told to tell that happened before.  Most times prequels tell us what we already know, the tension is gone cause we know where they have to end up.  Now with Insidious 3 it’s a bit different cause we don’t follow the family from the first two we follow the psychic played by Lin Shaye and I have to admit it was a good idea, cause if you’ve seen the second one you know a sequel would be trickier than a prequel, and they could show us another case she dealt with and of course maybe how she first encountered the further so I was on board for a prequel.  Also Whannell wrote the first two so I trusted him with this one.

What I liked: I horror franchise is a strange animal cause you look at the movies as part of a whole, is this entry decent enough to not hurt the overall franchise and clearly Insidious is a franchise now.  The question you ask is does this movie fit into the overall feel of Insidious and I say yes, Lin Shaye is the reason to watch the film, her character Elise Rainer is a classic horror character, she’s tortured, she’s gifted and ultimately doomed. This time out we see her backstory and also they do a nice job of fleshing out her character, in this third film she is a full character not a secondary character we know some thing, she know a lot more about her.  I will say I’m a sucker for a scared character in a horror film, someone who’s seen the evil or the monster and is scared not a coward per say but someone who knows I can’t do this.  This is a nice story of someone who knows evil is out there and tries to stay away but is pulled back because deep down she wants to help people and that’s always a cool story.

I’d like to take some time to also talk about what I think this film is about, loss, it’s a big part of this story, the main character the teenage girl has lost her mother, so that means the father has lost his wife, Elise has lost her husband.  Everyone is in pain here, there’s also a small sub plot with a couple who lives in the apartment next store, it’s an old couple and the wife isn’t doing well she has some form of dementia, at one point when the father talks to his daughter he mentions the cat lady who lives next store, well something happens to her and we find the husband sitting in the lobby and when the father talks to him the husband has this little speech about his wife and how long they were married and how she was once a young and beautiful women, and now people just call her the cat lady and how she was so much more than that.

I thought it was a great little human moment and to give it to a supporting character was a nice tough to show everyone has their story and it’s easy to just overlook people.  There’s a few moments like that, Lin Shaye has a nice scene where she talks about her husband and how he killed himself.  It’s moments like this in a genre story that’s so important, to stop and have a character moment is key in us caring about the horror.  If we like the people we care what happens, it sounds simple but so many horror films skip that step and just give us stock characters.

So it’s a horror film is it scary, yup, there’s a couple of moments that got me, it’s not as scary or as intense as the first one but it’s as spooky as the second.  The funny thing with the Insidious films is that it’s kind of a combo ghost and demon story, kind of a haunting and a possession story.

What I didn’t like: The main story with the family, the daughter, younger son and father is cookie cutter, we’ve seen it a thousand times and it’s a little too cliched for a film trying to have more depth.  The daughter played by Stefanie Scott is fine, her performance is good just doesn’t have the family vibe with the rest of the cast her and Dermot Mulroney don’t seem like father and daughter, I know that could be on purpose but it does hold the story back.  The film does rely on the annoying “the sound is super loud when something scary happens” I hate that and yes they rely on jump scares a couple work.  There are call backs to characters from the first two films and I wish they were in it more.  Shaye as to carry a lot of the film and it’s nice to see her playing off characters we know I wish they had more time together.

Final Thoughts: For a horror prequel and a third entry in a franchise this was a pretty decent movie, it wasn’t great but it was good enough for what it was, I like the character moments and I liked we had emotional depth to the horror.

Rating: 6/10