Leigh Whannell

Movie Review: UPGRADE (2018)

Movie Review: UPGRADE (2018)

Even if you’re not familiar with the name (and as a horror fan, you should be), there’s a reason why LEIGH WHANNELL is on everyone’s radar at the moment. As a director/producer/writer/actor, together with frequent producing partner JAMES WAN (who I know you’ve heard of), Whannell’s had a hand in the creation of some of the most successful horror efforts from the last two decades, including the franchises for SAW, INSIDIOUS, THE CONJURING and ANNABELLE, be it in front of or behind the camera. (And in some cases, it’s been both.) So it should come as no surprise whatsoever, that this talented man’s ever-creative brain spat out the concept for the remarkable sci-fi/action/horror thriller, UPGRADE.

Grey Trace (potential Tom Hardy stand-in LOGAN MARSHALL-GREEN from PROMETHEUS, SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING and DEVIL) isn’t just your everyday, garden-variety Luddite in the not-all-that-distant future. He’s not seeking to ‘destroy the system’ that controls this world, but he sure as hell isn’t going to be a part of it. He listens to gut-bucket blues while he works on restoring ‘analog’-based cars, for very rich people who collect them. But he doesn’t love his cars or his music half as much as his beautiful wife, Asha, (MELANIE VALLEJO), and no, he doesn’t mind at all that she’s the “pants-wearing breadwinner” of the family.  Alas, the ‘happy-life’ set up must end, as they all must for a movie like this to work, and thanks to a malfunction in the cab that’s supposed to be bringing them home, the lovebirds instead end up in a really bad part of Grey’s old ‘hood, where a band of thugs decides to kill Asha, and leave Grey permanently paralyzed instead of dead.

Wouldn’t you know it, though: there’s an app for that. One of the rich people he sold a refurbished car to is a Steve Jobs/Elon Musk-type technological wunderkind named Eron Keen (HARRISON GILBERTSON). Yes, his appearance is foreshadowing that’s about as subtle as a Keith Moon drum solo, and yes, he does turn up again after Grey’s ordeal, to give him a way to walk again, but more than that, a means by which avenging his crippling and his wife’s murder will be a breeze.

That way is a computer chip called ‘STEM,’ but calling it a “computer chip” is like calling Mount Kilimanjaro a molehill. STEM not only helps operate Grey’s damaged central nervous system and thereby his arms, legs and the rest of his body, but it can help him do some pretty incredible things…like, kick the living shit out of bad guys. And then we and Grey soon realize…he’s not the only ‘modified human’ running around out there. And when he’s not looking for them, they are most certainly out to get him!
However, as wondrous technological developments always do in movies like this, STEM is not without its own set of problematic glitches and side effects, and to say anything more than that would reveal some devastating Act Three spoilers, including the most important twist of all in the story, which isn’t ‘early M. Night Shyamalan’-badass, but pretty close.

I don’t know how much training Marshall-Green had in physical conditioning and movement before shooting, but however long and/or grueling it was, the end results were more than worth it.  His performance is incredible, especially the way he defines Grey’s bodily control under STEM’S influence as totally and spell bindingly different than it is under his own steam.  And all without the aid of CG or other special visual effects, save for some dazzling angles that Whannell employs, thanks to the amazing camera work of DP STEFAN DUSCIO, and also in no small part to the stunt team, led by coordinator CHRIS ANDERSON, with stunning fight choreography by CHRIS WEIR.

BENEDICT HARDIE (HACKSAW RIDGE, NEKROTRONIC) makes a great anti-heroic counterpart for Grey as Fisk, the ‘bad guy’ seemingly responsible for everything that happens, though you discover in pretty short order, that his motivations are far beyond those of the kind of average thug-villain who’d usually be playing this role.  I also love the obvious nod to the late Douglas Rain’s voice performance as “HAL 2000” in Kubrick’s “2001”. If there’s any justice in this world, the smooth, even and undeniably creepy tones of SIMON MAIDEN’S “STEM” voice will become just as iconic.

There’s no way to herald anyone on this picture without including the eye-popping work by the makeup FX team here.  The impressive key sequences would have come across so much better if they hadn’t already been ‘spoiled’ in the “Red Band” version of the trailer.  Even having said that, they’re still amazing as hell when you see them in context.

There aren’t a whole lot of complaints I have about this one, but there is one aspect that bears mentioning: I know the previews sell this as a testosterone-fueled, dystopian thrill ride for the ‘dudes’, and yeah, I’ll admit that was part of the allure for me. But that also means the female characters get short shrift…again. The death of Grey’s wife, Asha, pretty much propels the entire plot into motion, although Vallejo gets to do little more than look pretty…even when her character is dying.

I can understand the casting of BETTY GABRIEL as Det. Cortez, the cop who begins to realize there’s more to her ‘crippled’ suspect than meets the eye.  Between her spellbinding performance in Jordan Peele’s GET OUT, plus her growing resume of appearances in other genre movies like UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB and THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR, she’s quickly becoming the next “IT-Girl” for horror and sci-fi fans. But I really wished they’d given her more to do because hers is the kind of character you want to know more about. The antagonistic-yet-empathetic relationship between her and Grey could have been developed much more extensively than it was.

The one place where the minimal development of female characters works comes about, when at a crucial moment in the story, Grey hooks up with a mysterious uber-hacker named “Jamie” (KAI BRADLEY). In their scene together, which probably is all of about three minutes in length, we are completely captivated by her, not just because of the interesting aura she projects, thanks to Bradley’s performance, but because of several things she says to Grey and about him, throwing hints out there about what’s going on – there’s more to this story than we think there is, Jamie warns us. And that has me looking forward to a sequel, which I hope Whannell intended. Which I also hope includes Jamie’s return.

I’m glad that my concerns about Whannell were completely groundless. Though I’ve enjoyed his work as both an actor and a filmmaker, I was wondering if he considered his niche to be splitting time between the writer’s room, producer’s desk, and acting. UPGRADE is only his second film where he took over the director’s chair (his first time was in 2015 with INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3), but if UPGRADE is any indication of where he’s going with his creative knack, I’m looking forward to the UPGRADE sequel…or wherever he decides to go next. Count me in! And please accept four out of five bone-crushing stars of gratitude!

Posted by Samuel Glass in GORE OR EXTREME HORROR, MOVIE REVIEWS, REVIEWS, SCI-FI HORROR, THRILLER, URBAN DECAY/DYSTOPIAN FUTURES, 0 comments
What’s Hot on the Indie and Straight to DVD/VOD Scene?

What’s Hot on the Indie and Straight to DVD/VOD Scene?

Here’s a quick look at what’s hot in the Indie horror and more lesser known horror scene in the coming months, as it is set to erupt with DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD releases for fans.

American Guinea Pig: The Song of Solomon (2018)On August 7th we have already seen the releases of films like the dramatic horror film MARROWBONE with Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things), a Bluray release of Dante Tomescelli’s 1999 film DESECRATION, the dramatic fantasy thriller WILDING (starring Liv Tyler), FLORA a thrilling sci-fi film about the discovery of a deadly bacteria, Canada’s own occultist gem PYEWACKET (starring The Walking Dead’s Laurie Holden), a film called DEADSHACK (starring Lauren Holly), and the creepy looking GEHENNA: WHERE DEATH LIVES (featuring both Doug Jones and Lance Henriksen). Finally, yesterday we got the long-anticipated new piece of Stephen Biro’s series of horror films – AMERICAN GUINEA PIG: THE SONG OF SOLOMON – starring the likes of horror alumni such as Jessica Cameron and Jim Van Bebber.

HERE’S A LIST OF WHATS TO COME BY THE NEW YEAR:

AUGUST 14th

What Still Remains (2018) / Fair use doctrine.WHAT STILL REMAINS ― This dramatic thriller stars Mimi Rogers and Colin O’Donoghue as two people who face a world struck with an epidemic that has ravaged their lives and those they love.

AUGUST 17th

Summer of 84 (2018) / Fair use doctrine.POOL PARTY MASSACRE ― a comedic horror romp about a slasher loose in a swimming complex slicing up socialites.

AUGUST 24th

Summer of 84 (2018) / Fair use doctrine.SUMMER OF 84 ― the story of a teenager who begins to suspect his neighbor (a local cop) is a serial killer. He enlists the help of his pals and the game becomes all the more deadly.

AUGUST 28th

Upgrade (2018) / Fair use doctrine.UPGRADE ― a new sci-fi revenge thriller offering from Horror writer /director Leigh Whannell (Saw, Insidious, Dead Silence), and starring Logan Marshall-Green.

AUGUST 31st

Boarding School (2018) / Fair use doctrine.BOARDING SCHOOL ― a horror film set in a boarding school revolving around a strange boy and the mysterious headmaster and his wife.
Blood Fest (2018) / Fair use doctrine.BLOOD FEST ― a horror comedy about a diabolical rock show where attendees start dying and featuring Tate Donovan and Zachary Levi.

SEPTEMBER 28th

Hell Fest (2018) / Fair use doctrine.HELL FEST ― a horror-themed amusement park becomes a serial killer’s joyous hunting grounds one night, featuring iconic horror actor Tony Todd.

OCTOBER 9th

Welcome to Hell (2017) / Fair use doctrine.WELCOME TO HELL ― an anthology horror film about a terrifying coven of tales featuring Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp) and Bill Oberst Jr (the amazing Papa Corn from Circus of the Dead).

OCTOBER 23rd

Trauma (2017) / Fair use doctrine.TRAUMALucio A. Rojas writes and directs this action horror film about four Chilean friends who are attacked brutally by a father and son duo. The foursome decides to confront their attackers, only to discover their attackers are part of the darkest period in Chilean history.

OCTOBER 26th

Overlord (2018) / Fair use doctrine.OVERLORD ― rumored to be a possible piece of the Cloverfield film saga, this movie focuses on two American soldiers on D-Day behind enemy lines. With some impressive looking gore, it’s set to have fans of horror interested. Stars Iain De Caestecker (In Fear), Pilou Asbaek (Ghost in the Shell), and Wyatt Russell (Black Mirror).

OCTOBER 31st

American Antichrist (2018) / Fair use doctrine.AMERICAN ANTICHRIST ― the 5th film from Filmmaker Dakota Ray (aka Dakota Bailey) will Feature a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by deviants and plans to take the viewer on a surreal, nihilistic voyage of death, drugs, immorality, and religion.

NOVEMBER 13th

Stirring (2018) / Fair use doctrine.STIRRING ― (aka MRS. CLAUS ― ). – 10 years after a murder/suicide in a sorority, the younger sister of the girl who was murdered joins the same sorority and during a Christmas party, someone begins killing the party goers. This movie pays homage to the 80s style slasher and gives a plot twist or a few. Be sure to read the HoTS official review of Stirring.

DECEMBER 8th

Anna and the Apocalypse (2017) / Fair use doctrine.ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE ― a comedy horror musical (yes, kiddies, MUSICAL) about a zombie attack on the sleepy town of Little Haven — at Christmas!

HONORABLE MENTION

Klagger (2010) / Fair use doctrine.KLAGGER ― (a feature-length film based on the 2010 short) is directed by Casey Crow and Casey’s brother and producing partner, Gene Crow. The KLAGGER feature will expand the story of Joseph Klagger’s death in 1977 and how his malevolent spirit terrorizes a small demolition crew employed to raze the factory he died in 36 years earlier. Coming to cinemas.
Posted by Michelle MIDI Peifer in COMING SOON, HORROR NEWS, 0 comments
MOVIE REVIEW: Insidious Chapter 4 (2018)

MOVIE REVIEW: Insidious Chapter 4 (2018)

Whenever we see the name James Wan appear, we already know that we are in for a special treat, considering that Mr. Wan makes quality flicks. Everything from Saw (2004) to the highly anticipated Aquaman heading to cinemas December 21, 2018. So, when a third sequel to the Insidious franchise was announced last year, hopes already started to rise sky high.

Writer Leigh Whannell, who wrote and co-starred in all the Insidious films takes us on yet, another dark trip into the further, and it was a lot of fun.

We open in New Mexico, 1953 and we are introduced to a young Elise Ranier (Ava Kolker) and her family. Her mother accepts the fact that she has an ultra-rare gift and can communicate with the dead, whilst her father seems to have a hard time and doesn’t believe in her ghosts stories, so he punishes her severely over and over again. This causes her to leave home to make a fresh start for herself and continue her life with her gift by becoming a paranormal investigator and solving undead puzzles.

One afternoon she receives a phone call from the property she once lived at and decides that she has to return home to face her fears and try to stop the ongoing evil that has been haunting the house for years. Oh, and we can’t forget about her two assistants, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), who both deliver quick quirky one-liners that cause the audience to burst out with laughter ever so often. When Elise and her duo pals arrive, she already knows that the house is full of spirits and that’s when the heart-pounding moments being to increase heavily and they don’t stop until the last frame of the film.

Even though this is a prequel, there is a lot of fun to be had while watching this film. Lin Shaye is once again superb and it shows the very second she is in frame. You can tell that she put her blood, sweat, tears, and heartbeats into her character and also had fun doing so. Lin Shaye was most definitely the best part of the entire movie. I had more fun watching her act throughout the film then the film trying to make me jump and spill my popcorn.

With that being said, the film has some minor flaws and pacing issues here and there, but we are introduced to a new form of evil and he’s pretty bad ass to look at.

Insidious: The Last Key may not take home any awards or be the best horror film of the year, it certainly won’t be the worst. Insidious: The Last Key was what I expected, a dark adventure into the further with jump scares, funny moments, cool looking creatures and most importantly, the amazing Lin Shaye.

Do yourself a favor and checkout Insidious: The Last Key before it leaves cinemas.

Posted by Jonathan Hughes in MOVIE REVIEWS, REVIEWS, 0 comments

THIS JUST IN: Insidious: Chapter 4 Is On Its Way


By Jonathan Patrick Hughes

In 2010, writer Leigh Whannell and Director James Wan made an independent film entitled, Insidious which, to me, felt more like a modern day Poltergeist with pulse-pounding moments and a clever way to take a audience on a trip into the further. Since then, the franchise has exploded giving the audience a true scarathon. James Wan directed the first two films as well as The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 and left the writer, Leigh Whannell in charge of directing the 3rd film in the franchise.

With 2017 just around the corner, a new chapter is gonna take us even further into the further. Once again, Leigh Whannell wrote the screenplay and the director of The Taking of Deborah Logan, Adam Robitel is sitting in the director's chair ready to give us a continuation that is going to take on levels that we have yet to experience.

“It takes place right after the end of Insidious: Chapter 3, when she walks off with Specs and Tucker and they’re starting their company, Spectral Sightings, and they are now living at her home. They’re like her two sons, her two bad sons.
“So it starts out in a very jovial, happy place and then goes downhill from there,” she adds. “And downhill meaning uphill, though. It’s a fantastic story and it took me back into what made Elise who she is. You meet my family, my mother, my father—we go back to my hometown, which is in New Mexico. And so that’s where this takes place and her quest to find the bad guy that’s been haunting her. It’s a really wonderful story. I think the fans will really, really enjoy it. And it’s scary on levels they’re not going to expect.”

As a fan of the franchise, I, for one, am excited to see where this will take us. I have yet to be disappointed with any of the films and I welcome a fourth chapter of Insidious. 2017 is shaping up to be a solid year for horror films.

Posted by Jonathan Hughes in HORROR NEWS, 0 comments
This Just In: Saw VIII Announced

This Just In: Saw VIII Announced

Just When You Thought
It Was Safe to Start Gaming Again
Saw: Legacy

By Woofer McWooferson

Saw II

Saw II

When the first Saw, written by Lee Whannell and directed by James Wan on a budget of only $1,200,000, grossed over $55,000,000 in two months, it was immediately clear that sequels would follow. Each new film introduced increasingly violent and gore-filled traps, something that was understated in the first, and the franchise became known as part of the burgeoning torture porn phenomenon. Though the sequels were directed by others, such as Darren Lynn Bousman, who helmed the immensely popular Saw II, Saw III, and Saw IV, Whannell and Wan remained active in the series as producers. By the seventh film, however, the budget was over $20,000,000 but the gross in the first month was only $45,670,855. Not a good return on investment in Hollywood books. This makes the announcement of a new installment both surprising and intriguing.

Saw III

Saw III

Since Saw 3D (2010) tied together everything from movies I through VI, it seemed the franchise might actually be complete and Jigsaw would be laid to rest. Not so. Another Saw film is in the works according to sources at Lionsgate. Josh Stolberg (Crawlspace) and Pete Goldfinger (Clown) will be writing the eighth Saw film, with director Wan and screenwriter Whannell returning as executive producers. No word yet on what the story will be – origin (there’s been quite a bit of that in the series already), reboot  (really?), or sequel (which is what the tentative title suggests (seems  a bad idea given how Saw 3D, wrapped up the series) – but it’s a safe bet that it will involve the elaborate traps for which the franchise is renowned.

Saw IV

Saw IV

There has also been no word on who will direct or whether franchise star Tobin Bell will return as Jigsaw, but a Saw film without Jigsaw is like a Hellraiser without Pinhead – disastrous.

House of Tortured Souls will keep you updated as more details are released.

Posted by Alan Smithee in HORROR NEWS, 1 comment
MOVIE REVIEW: Cooties (2015)

MOVIE REVIEW: Cooties (2015)

KILLER KIDS WILL EAT YOUR FACE!!
A Review of Horror/Comedy Cooties

By Amy Lynes

cooties-poster

Directed by: Jonathan Millot and Cary Murnion

Starring: Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Leigh Whannell, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer, Nasim Pedrad, and Jorge Garcia

Cooties begins with a chicken, infected with some sort of virus, being processed and turned into chicken nuggets as it makes it way through various stages of processing via conveyor belts. The nuggets are then shipped to the elementary school at...Fort Chicken. Yes, that's right. I said Fort Chicken.

Clint is a down on his luck aspiring writer and teacher, who has recently returned home to Fort Chicken from New York. In addition to writing his horror novel about a possessed boat, he has returned to Fort Chicken to take a teaching job at his old elementary school. And of course, his first day on the job is the very day that the tainted nuggets are being served to the elementary students.

Things start off normal enough, with Clint arriving at the school at the start of the day and introducing himself to the rest of the oddball teaching staff and meeting up with his old school crush, Lucy. She is now the 4th grade teacher and coincidentally, the girlfriend of the proverbial asshole phys ed teacher, who from the minute he sees them talking, has it in for Clint.

Before long, all hell breaks loose, "Cooties" are spread and soon all the children at the school have it and begin tearing the adults apart and Clint and the rest of the rag tag band of teachers are left to fight for their lives in the middle of a massive zombie like outbreak. They soon discover that the "cooties" can be transmitted from child to child merely by touch and that it has become a widespread epidemic...

There is as much to like about Cooties as there is to dislike, and although killing kids has never been this much fun, there is just something lacking here. With equal parts horror and equal parts comedy, Cooties was too light on both and almost seems to make fun of itself. The end result is that what could have been an extremely entertaining watch leaves much to be desired.

While the direction is mediocre, the effect aren't half bad and the acting is delightful. Even the cheesy, overused in horror films dialogue comes off as funny when masterfully executed by the talented cast, making the film much more palatable and fun to watch. Rainn Wilson shines with his comedic delivery as Wade and is perfectly complemented by Elijah Woods' take on geeky writer/teacher Clint and Leigh Whannell's portrayal of the creepy/dorky Doug.

While there is something a little bit weird about rooting for the destruction of these zed-like brain eating killer kids, there is a certain amount of satisfaction to be had watching these educators dispatch their charges, sometimes with glee. Ultimately though, Cooties almost tries too hard to be funny with cheap comedic shots and dialogue and in spite of the films humorous premise it does not quite live up to it's potential. There are worse ways to spend an afternoon, but if you are looking to be wowed, look elsewhere.

Rating 6/10

Posted by Alan Smithee in MOVIE REVIEWS, REVIEWS, 0 comments