Produced by Jason Blum who is best known for horror films and the Academy Award-nominated Whiplash released in 2014 and Get Out released in 2017, Upgrade is a surprisingly fun and exhilarating low-budget sci-fi film that has a uniquely creative script filled with tongue-in-cheek humor and gruesomely violent action sequences. Played by television actor Logan Marshall-Green, Grey Trace is living a peaceful life as a stay-at-home husband who enjoys working on classic cars and is happily married to the beautiful Asha until tragedy strikes after he and his wife are viciously attacked, which leaves him paralyzed. Depressed over his condition and the loss of his wife, Grey agrees to participate in a secret futuristic experiment offered by tech mogul Eron Keen, played by the creepy Australian actor Harrison Gilbertson, that has the ability to restore his body functions to normal. Eron has developed a technological device called STEM that when implanted gives the person super strength and increased awareness by bridging its advanced technology with the human body. Grey uses his new abilities to track down and brutally hunt those responsible for his wife’s death after the police investigation led by Detective Cortez, played by Betty Gabriel best known for her role in Get Out, appears to go nowhere. Eventually, he learns that STEM can talk to him and ultimately take complete control of his body even against his will. Reminiscent of the filmmaker’s other work, especially the Saw film series first released in 2004, the fight scenes are extremely graphic but are choreographed like some sort of robotic dance in which Grey is viciously able to dispatch his opponents. As the body count rises, he discovers that there is a dark and mysterious conspiracy that motivated the initial attack that left him paralyzed. Furthermore, the twist ending makes for even more of a thrill ride that was unexpected from the beginning. Overall, I found it to be a thoroughly entertaining action sci-fi flick that feels like a midnight B movie while also being a smart movie that explores the implications of technology and surveillance.
Directed by first-time filmmaker John Krasinski who is best known for acting in the widely popular TV show The Office, A Quiet Place is a terrific horror film that is notable for its creative writing and outstanding subtle acting performances. It relies on a rather simple yet extremely effective premise: a family is trying to survive post-apocalyptic creatures that attack when they hear any noise. The father and husband Lee, played by John Krasinski, along with his wife Evelyn, played by Golden Globe winner Emily Blunt who is Krasinski’s real life wife, do their best to protect their two young sons and deaf daughter Regan, played by the extraordinary young actress Millicent Simmonds who is deaf in real life, from the truly horrifying monsters lurking in the background. Lee has set up on the family farm elaborate defenses against the blind creatures with a hypersensitive ability to hear even the smallest sound. Even though it definitely has elements of a horror film with terrifying jump scares and gruesome monsters, the movie is able to appeal to those who avoid the horror genre, like myself, because of its innovative story and remarkable build-up of thrilling suspense. Transcending the typical horror flick, the film focuses on how one family copes with tragedy and perpetual fear and lays it out in a taut ninety minutes without superfluous gore. The dramatic ending, with a surprising twist involving the deaf daughter and warding off the creatures, is particularly brilliant and leads perfectly into the already planned sequel. Overall, although I was hesitant to see it at first, the movie is definitely worth seeing even if horror is not your thing, and it displays the remarkable talent of first-time director John Krasinski.
Directed by Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa, Life is a fairly typical ‘trapped in space’ sci-fi thriller that provides enough thrills and a creative twist on extraterrestrial horror to make for an entertaining film. Unlike most science fiction, the setting of the International Space Station instead of a futuristic spacecraft makes the storyline somewhat more plausible, as if it could take place today. The movie starts out with the six-member multinational crew making a significant scientific discovery of a small living organism recovered from Mars. However, the British biologist on board realizes the specimen is more than it seems and the Quarantine Officer, played by Rebecca Ferguson, must ensure that their discovery is kept contained in the quarantined laboratory as a result of the potential dangers. Ryan Reynolds’ character who is an American pilot for the space station risks his life in order to save the British biologist who is confronted with the very real dangers of the organism’s ability to cause harm. The specimen rapidly grows and becomes stronger in the presence of the oxygen-rich environment of the International Space Station. In several horrifying scenes, the entire crew, including the Russian commander and the American medical officer, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, must battle for their own survival as the space creature nicknamed Calvin causes irreparable damage to the space station in which all communications with Earth have been cut off and there is no easy escape. The filmmaker does an excellent job of re-creating what it must be like to live in space and seemingly presents the International Space Station in a realistic fashion, complete with the correct scientific implements. Overall, I found it to be a good but not great movie in a long line of films about the terrifying nature of space, and it is a excitingly fun sci-fi flick to pass the time.
Written and directed by Jordan Peele who is best known as the co-creator of the hit sketch comedy series Key & Peele, Get Out is a surprisingly phenomenal film that expertly crafts the comedy and horror genres to create an incisive social satire about contemporary racism. The plot follows black photographer Chris Washington, played by Daniel Kaluuya, as he goes to the suburbs to visit the parents of his white girlfriend Rose Armitage, played by Allison Williams. Rose not telling her parents that her boyfriend is black makes Chris worried about their reaction when he first meets them. However, he is pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome of her father and neurosurgeon Dean, played by Bradley Whitford, and her mother and psychiatrist Missy, played by Catherine Keener. After spending more time with the family and meeting their black maid Georgina and black groundskeeper Walter who both act zombie-like, Chris senses there is something peculiar about the Armitages and their white neighbors. The film rapidly evolves into a horror thriller after Missy hypnotizes Chris, and he learns more about what is actually going on in the neighborhood. He relays his concerns to his black friend Rod who works for the TSA and serves as comic relief, with his exaggerated reactions and outlandish theories about what Chris is experiencing. Things get even weirder when Chris tells Rose about his suspicions and that they both must get out immediately. The film’s ending intensifies as plot twists abound and the audience finally figures out the sinister secrets of the neighborhood. What makes the movie so good is Peele’s ability to perfectly time scary and funny moments in order to keep the viewer engaged. By using the horror genre in which everything is not as it seems, Peele also cleverly devises a way to comment on society as a whole. He uses film to highlight the fact that racism still exists today even if people claim that we are in a post-racial society the result of Obama’s election. For instance, the Armitages, seemingly the epitome of white liberalism who say they would vote a third time for Obama, and their white suburban neighbors have a dark side that may counter their belief that they are far from being racists. Thereby, as evidenced by current race relations, actions and beliefs do not have to be overt in order to make somebody racist, but unrecognized subtle acts of prejudice can have a little-by-little detrimental affect on another race. Overall, I found it to be a highly entertaining experience, despite my general dislike of scary movies, that unexpectedly provides a profoundly important message about racism.
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan who is best known for 1999’s The Sixth Sense, Split is a surprisingly good movie for Shyamalan who unfortunately has had a string of below-average films since his sterling debut. What makes the film really shine is the brilliant acting performance from James McAvoy who convincingly depicts the myriad personalities of the character Kevin who suffers from dissociative identity disorder. It starts out with the kidnapping of three high school girls who are locked away in a cellar-like room by Kevin who has a total of 23 different personalities. Some personalities are compassionate and innocent like Barry who tries to control the other personalities and Hedwig who is a 9 year old boy. However, some of his other personalities are malevolent and downright creepy like Dennis who came up with the idea of kidnapping the girls and Patricia who is a mysteriously conniving woman. Throughout the film, Kevin through the personality of Barry tries to get help from his longtime psychiatrist Dr. Fletcher who attempts to calm his dangerous and neurotic sides. Her theory that those with dissociative identity disorder can literally transform their bodies physically is horrifyingly proven true towards the end as Kevin takes on a 24th personality, the supernaturally strong Beast. The filmmaker effectively uses mystery and terror to create a suspenseful yet entertaining experience with disturbing and violent results. Since most of the action is rather slow paced and simply makes the audience question which personality will show up, the movie is not your typical slasher horror film filled with over-the-top blood and gore. What also surprised me was that, unlike a majority of Shyamalan’s works, the ending was rather predictable for a filmmaker known for his trademark surprise twists. Overall, I found it to be an enjoyably thrilling film that finally provides a glimmer of M. Night Shyamalan’s past original glory and would have flopped without James McAvoy’s impressive ability to play so many roles in one character.
A surprisingly thrilling movie, The Shallows stars Blake Lively as an aimless surfer who must fend for her life from a great white shark. The film’s first 20 minutes or so is like any other surfing movie, complete with stunning action shots in a beautiful tropical setting. It starts with her being driven through a dense jungle to a secluded beach in Mexico. Along the journey, she converses with her local driver during the only major speaking part of the film. Through her conversation and a series of photos shown on screen as if on her cell phone, we learn that Lively’s character has always dreamed of visiting this particular beach because of her mother’s personal connection with it. When she finally gets in the water to catch some waves, palpable tension is created because we never know when the shark will inevitably attack. Nearing dusk and all alone, the telltale shark fin is spotted lurking near her and your mind unconsciously hears the theme music from Jaws. Much of the rest of the film, Lively’s character is trapped on a small outcropping of rocks only 200 yards away from the shore. She is forced to muster up the courage to devise a way of escaping her deadly predicament with the limited resources at her disposal. Its focus on a single individual figuring out how to survive reminded me of the movies Castaway and 127 Hours. The film is also obviously reminiscent of the all-time classic shark movie Jaws; in fact, it may very well be the best shark-themed movie released since Spielberg’s 1975 thriller. Like Jaws, a lot of the suspense is created without even showing the shark and even includes underwater shots seemingly from the shark’s perspective. However, there are a few brief shots of the shark actually attacking its victims with some gore. Going into the movie, I was expecting a cheesy B-movie that would not be able to overcome its inherently gimmicky premise of one woman on a rock versus one very hungry great white shark. However, I came away impressed with the film’s successful ability to create a very suspenseful and exhilarating cinematic experience, ultimately transcending its basic shtick.
Green Room is a well-directed independent film that is definitely not for the faint-hearted. At the beginning, the film follows a punk rock band that is literally living gas tank to gas tank on a cross-country tour and eventually end up somewhere they really should not be. Desperate for any paying gig, the band of young misfits arrive at a run-down compound located deep in the Oregon woods where they perform in front of a large gathering of white supremacists. The group find themselves trapped inside the back green room after a young female is discovered murdered. The movie becomes a slow burn thriller in which we really do not know what happened and what exactly the gang of white supremacists are doing at the compound. Then, it rapidly descents into hell for the band members after the arrival of the gang’s leader played by Patrick Stewart who tries to clean up the mess and elude the police. As probably the greatest asset to the film, the acting from Stewart is top-notch; his brilliantly creepy performance as an unrepentant psychopath is so markedly different from what we are used to in Star Trek. Evolving into a classic midnight special, the standoff elevates into an extreme level of violence and gore. Although the scenes of violence can be gratuitous, the movie maintains clever dialogue and outstanding acting. The band’s default leader played by Anton Yelchin develops from being subdued and indecisive to becoming a no-holds-barred fighter adamant on escaping alive along with a young woman portrayed by the sublime Imogen Poots. I would recommend Green Room only to those willing to go on a wild roller coaster of thrills and are not squeamish.