(On Cable TV, February 2019) Now here’s a movie that pleasantly surprised me. A lean, efficient mis-mash of conventional SF devices used remarkably well, Upgrade showcases the go-for-broke aesthetics of writer/director Leigh Whannel, playing in a futuristic sandbox without letting go of his usual horror instincts. Here, a man paralyzed by a crime that also left his girlfriend dead ends up the recipient of an experimental treatment: a computer chip that allows him to take control of his limbs … until it decides what to do. Part revenge thriller, part cyberpunk nightmare, part belated entry in the “Artificial Intelligence” wave of SF movies that peaked around 2015, Upgrade is also a blend of science fiction, action and horror with a strong dash of dark humour. It’s needlessly ultra-violent, yet exhilarating in the unusual technique in which its action and fights are captured. The commentary on technology feels familiar yet on-point, and the film is wrapped in an eerie overall atmosphere of off-kilter choices—such as the audio introductory credit sequence. Despite the use of familiar devices, it meets contemporary audiences at their level and proves hugely enjoyable along the way. Giving a substantial role to Betty Gabriel certainly helps. Even at 100 minutes, Upgrade feels like a breeze: I was actually disappointed when it ended, because I wanted a bit more of that good stuff.
(On Cable TV, April 2017) Every successive film in The Purge series has done better justice to the concept of its premise. Unfortunately, every successive film’s impact has also been blunted by our familiarity with the series, to the point where The Purge: Election Year almost does justice to the enduringly dumb premise, but it still feels like a re-hash given that we’ve seen the first two films anyway. While it flirts with heavier political ideas than the previous film, it undercuts its own material by bringing in quasi-religious snippets that feel tired and cartoonish. Still, the emphasis here remains on the heroes living through the night, blending high and low society in-between a presidential candidate, a shopkeeper and a notorious EMT whose backstory remains blessedly obscure. Frank Grillo’s character returns, but the links between this and the previous installment remain tenuous. Elizabeth Mitchell and Betty Gabriel both make good impressions, but this remains a premise-centric show with a horror film’s fondness for gruesome set-pieces. Exactly the kind of movie that’s dulled by too-frequent repetition. I’m neither too enthusiastic nor too critical of The Purge: Election Year, but it’s a good thing I didn’t watch all three films back-to-back-to-back, otherwise I’m not sure I’d like it as much. This being said, mark me down a nominally interested in a remake ten years from now, but only on the condition that it actually explores some of the ideas of The Purge in greater details and consistency than what we’ve seen so far.