Blumhouse’s “Upgrade” movie review

Black Mirror on crack. That is precisely what Blumhouse’s Upgrade can be likened to. Outstanding commentary on the convergence of humanity and technology that provides many thought-provoking moments. Best known for its horror, this action thriller from Blumhouse will have you on the edge of your seat the entire time. Rooted in classic science-fiction, this thriller will also deliver a healthy dose of dark comedy, heart-pounding action, and acutely shockingly violent scenes. Writer-director Leigh Whannel crafts a brilliant motion picture that is one part vigilante Robocop and another part Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster. On the surface, Whannel’s thriller comes across as a B-movie done well, but it contains prolific content that will likely inspire conversations about the relationship between humanity and technology. Perhaps it was not the intention of Whannel (co-creator of Insidious and Saw) to write a motion picture steeped with commentary on the human condition and a harbinger against allowing technology to fuse with our minds and bodies, but there is certainly material here to discuss those deeper topics. Bumhouse’s Upgrade is certainly a big screen experience, so catch it while it is there!

Set in the not-so-distant future, cars drive themselves, pizzas can be printed at home, and Alexa is built into your house. After dropping off a completely rebuilt 1980s Firebird Trans-Am at a client’s hosue, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is left a quadriplegic following a brutal car accident and mugging that also leaves his wife dead. While recovering in the hospital, Grey is approached by a major tech company owner about an experimental surgery that is theorized to enable Grey to regain his motor skills. It worked! Only now, Grey’s realized that he has cat-like agility and reflexes as well as increased strength. With his newfound abilities, Grey seeks to assassinate those he blames for his wife’s death.

Better have an iron stomach in order to watch this thriller, because Whannel prefers shocking moments in abundance. Whereas this film is certainly not a horror–as the intent of the film is NOT to horrify audiences–it certainly contains elements borrowed from horror films in order in increase the level of threat. A director friend of mine from Germany characterized the film has having tones of a John Carpenter movie combined with Drive by Nicholas Winding Refn. Though set in a possible near-future, the cinematography, score, and lighting are quintessential 1980s. No surprise as 80s is en vogue in our movies and TV shows. Grey’s “everyman” character archetype enables audiences to identify with him quickly, thus root for him as he takes the law into his own hands to avenge the brutal death of his beloved wife. It’s the simple revenge plot that enables Whannel to build a complex character delivering dark humor and visceral violence.

Definitely an entertaining science-fiction thriller! If you enjoy TV shows like Netflix’ Black Mirror and movies like DriveHalloween, Frankenstein, and Robocop, then you’ll certainly like Blumhouse’s Upgrade.

“Get Out” movie review

getoutThe epitome of the American horror film. Jordan Peele’s Get Out is an outstanding work of horror cinema, in that the American horror film is the best genre for creatively commentating on the various social, economic, and psychological constructs of life in such a way that can be visually thought-provoking. And the best part about this film is Peele does not pull out any of the usual horror tropes or clichés until the showdown. Before you begin to think that Universal Pictures and Blumhouse are pulling a bait-n-switch–selling you a psychological thriller when the film is really a heavy drama–think again. Get Out is every bit a horror film as its more traditional counterparts. In terms of its contribution to the library of horror films, the movie is flawless. From the writing to directing to acting and even the score, editing, and cinematography, Get Out is a film that you should definitely “get out” to watch. With a current 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, this film is certain to grab prolific attention from movie patrons, film studies, and social studies professors alike. It’s a brilliant film to discuss in future American horror film classes. Never before has a film been used in such a creative and visceral way to comment on how one culture appropriates the best of another for purposes of exploitation or simply because it has something that you want, and then attempt to change, assimilate, or remove altogether because that which you want is seen as wasted on the originator. “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

Most romantic relationships between two people enter the anxious “meet the parents” stage, and Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose’s (Allison Williams) 5-month relationship is no different. Rose takes Chris out of the city to visit her parents’ lavish country home along a peaceful lake. Rose’s parents Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford) are eager to meet their daughter’s boyfriend and welcome them with open arms, hugs, and tea. When her parents begin to be overly accommodating, Chris begins to think that there is a little more than meets the eye at Rose’s parents’ place. Whereas Chris’ first impression of Rose’s family and friends was just their nervous attempt to work through Chris and Rose’s interracial relationship, now he dreads that there is something unsettling going on. After encountering an old acquaintance of his who has changed to be quite peculiar, Chris’ goal is to get himself and his girlfriend to safety. During his investigation into her family and the uncomfortable actions of the hired help, Chris could never have imagined what he comes to find out. Truth can be scarier than fiction.

It is difficult to explore some of the themes and subtext of this film without giving too much away, but I’m going to try my best to analyze what I can without spoiling anything for those who plan to see the movie. The first element I took note of in the film was the choice of music. Not so much a score (although, there is a score to the film), the music selections in the film serve as an allusion to the overall message and theme in the film. For those who know a little something about music history, you may pick up on the strategic selection and placement of the various songs and musical scores used throughout the film. There are moments in which the music does not seem to match up with the mood or tone of the film–at least, at face value. However, as you delve deeper into the film, you will realize that the music fits in all too well with the plot. I’ll give you this: think about the origins of the music in the film when you watch it. Before music, such as jazz and hiphop, became popular amongst a predominantly white society, it originated amongst the black community.

Another aspect of the film that hints at the big reveal in the turning point just before the third act is the physique, athletic talent, and sexual stereotypes of black males. You’ll notice that clues are dropped here and there, albeit subtly, at the relationship between Rose’s family & friends and members of the black community. The worship of Chris’ body by many of Rose’s family friends makes for an incredibly uncomfortable sequence of encounters at the outdoor picnic. The unsettling weird encounters between Chris and all the people he meets at Rose’s family home each work to grow the level of tension and terror in the film–the fear of something dreadful looming on the horizon. Without relying upon a proliferation of jump scares and visceral horror, Peele successfully increases the level of anxiety to terrifying levels in the film. Reminiscent in the ways that Hitchcock or Kubrick may have directed this film–in terms of relying upon the fear of something not visible to the naked eye–Peele incorporates the feeling of uneasiness every moment he can without over saturating the plot. Perfect amount of all the elements that make up the American horror film can be found in this deeply disturbing narrative.

**Spoiler Alert** (you can skip to the last paragraph to avoid it)

In an effort to truly appreciate this brilliance of this film, it is necessary to disclose information that could potentially spoil the big reveal. Early in the film when Chris asked Rose if she ever dated a black guy before, she said that he was her first. This was in preparations for the trip to meet Rose’s parents. While on the tour of the home, Rose’s father mentioned a story of his dad losing in the Berlin Olympics to now famous Jesse Owens and commenting on how a black man beat a white man. Chris finds the commentary a little peculiar. Furthermore, during the first night there, Rose’s mom hypnotizes Chris to quit smoking–this sets up a plot device used later. Just before the third act, as tensions are extremely high (oh but don’t worry, they get higher), Chris stumbles across a box of photos of what look to be Rose and previous people she dated. He was not the first black guy she dated. Piecing together the fact that one of the picnic guests was an acquaintance of his from back in Brooklyn who no longer looked or acted the same way–much more white now–Chris urges Rose to leave with him.

Skipping ahead. Chris finds himself strapped to a chair and watching a video that is clearly meant to brainwash him. Many years ago, Rose’s family discovered a way to neurologically alter individuals to take what they want and leave that which was undesirable: malicious appropriation of bodies in order to serve as a vessel for individuals who saw themselves as elite. This is social commentary on how back males are often exploited for economic gain in areas such as football, basketball, track, and even music and fashion too. So, Peele was using this horror film to comment on how many in the white community have stolen from or appropriated elements from the black community in order to further their own gain or develop ways of entertaining the masses without proper acknowledgement, formal recognition, or even payment. For example, the jazz music at the beginning of the film. That style of music came out of black culture before it was rebranded high class white music for nightclubs, shows, and weddings. Further evidence of this social commentary can be found in other areas of talent that many want to steel for their own and then reprimand the black community or not being ‘more white.’ I could go on and on. Fascinating stuff!

**End Spoiler Info**

If you enjoy psychological thrillers that do not rely upon the usual tropes found in horror films similar to this one–on the surface level anyway–then “get out” to see Get Out this weekend. Although the runtime is a little longer than typical horror films (2hr 10min), the time will fly right by as you are glued to the seat and mesmerized at the combination of horror and deep sociological theming. Thought provoking, this film will prompt hours of discussions between friends and family who choose to go to the film together. As it is a horror film, do not plan to see it alone. Horror is the one genre that is best experienced in a group setting.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

“Split” movie review

splitIntensely captivating! M. Night Shyamalan stages a successful return to the horror-thriller genre in the brilliantly intriguing motion picture Split. When Universal Pictures, arguably the king of the American horror film, Blumhouse Productions, and Shyamalan combine their respective visual storytelling skills, the result is a dynamic thriller full of outstanding twists and turns. Shyamalan, long known for surprise or bizarre endings, provides audiences with the biggest surprise of all: he is back, and it’s a completely satisfying cinematic experience! Beginning with 2015’s The Visit, Shyamalan has been working on a comeback; and Split is the final evidence needed to support his successful return to the silver screen. James McAvoy delivers an outstanding performance–or should I say performances–every minute of the film. Although the concept of building a suspense-thriller around a character with dissociative identify disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder, is not a new one–after all Norman Bates is the most iconic example. M. Night Shyamalan puts his own spin on the character-type by adding his special blend of what can only be referred to as “shyamalan-ness.” You’ll definitely want to see it again in order to catch everything that you missed the first time.

A film that many psych majors will find fascinating! While the mental divisions of those with dissociative identity disorder have long fascinated and eluded science, it is believed that some can also manifest unique physical attributes for each personality, a cognitive and physiological prism within a single being. Though Kevin (McAvoy) has evidenced 23 personalities to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), there remains one still submerged who is set to materialize and dominate all the others. Compelled to abduct three teenage girls led by the willful, observant Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Kevin reaches a war for survival among all of those contained within him – as well as everyone around him – as the walls between his compartments shatter apart. (IMDb).

Just when you think the movie is going one direction, it throws you for an unpredictable loop. Split provides audiences with the same level of captivation as M. Night delivered in Signs or even in The Visit. Very much character-driven, this film could have easily taken a turn for the campy or par-for-the-course approach to a central character with DID; but Shyamalan proves that a familiar premise can be crafted into a whole new experience. After the incredible success of 1999’s The Sixth Sense, audiences everywhere set the bar for Shyamalan quite high–in fact he was prematurely compared to a 21st century Alfred Hitchcock. While it is highly unlikely that any director will reach the iconic status of Hitchcock, Shyamalan was seen as a director who would provide a similar experience to that which earned Hitchcock the moniker the master of suspense. Evidence of his admiration of Hitchcock can be been in the title sequence of Split. It bares a striking resemblance to the opening title sequence from Psycho. 

However, the danger in prematurely setting expectations too high is that you may likely be setting yourself up for disappointment. And that is precisely what happened with Shyamalan. From killer plants to invisible supernatural entities, he began to lose the cache he earned in the early 2000s. M. Night would spend years disappointing audiences to the point that he became a joke–a parody–perfect material for Family Guy. Then just when all hope for Shyamalan to regain the admiration of movie patrons–especially those who enjoy horror/suspense/thrillers–he gives us The Visit in 2015. That film was the glimmer of hope he needed to begin to rebuild his status as a thriller/suspense/horror filmmaker. And with the incredibly satisfying Split, M. Night Shyamalan is BACK!

Films like Psycho and Split only work as well as their respective director and cast–primarily the villain. Obviously, Psycho stands up to the test of time and will forever be a favorite of many cinephiles and a testament to the power of visual storytelling, Split had to be a new experience while still channeling the director that Shyamalan admires and patterns himself after. The success of Split rested upon the performance of McAvoy as Kevin (and the 23 others with a 24th on the horizon). McAvoy’s performance in this film is quite possibly the best of his career. Each identity is clearly seen as individuals. From his facial expressions to his gait to the manner in which he carries himself, every identity is unique in voice and appearance. Even in the middle of a conversation, one identity goes away while another surfaces into “the light.” Although there are only a few identities that have prominence in the diegesis, the others give audiences just enough nuance to register them as having a presence in the subconscious of Kevin.

For all the excellence in cinematic storytelling Split has to offer, there is no denying that it may be controversial in that it uses DID to construct a “beast.” There are already members of the mental-illness community who have expressed disdain for the subject matter and context of the film. However, prematurely dismissing this film as offensive to those suffering from cognitive disorders would be ill-conceived. After screening the film, it is clear that the focus is not on DID itself (or any other cognitive disorder that Kevin may have), nor is Kevin crafted to be an unredeemable monster; but, this film uses DID and the character of Casey (one of the young ladies who is captured at the beginning of the film) as tools through which to explore childhood trauma, abuse, and coping mechanisms. Isn’t that what films do? Push the envelop in an effort to provide a different perspective on an issue, problem, or circumstance? Horror is often concerned with “other” scenes–revealing that which should remain hidden–and Shyamalan does precisely that in Split.

If you enjoy horror, suspense, or thriller films, then you are definitely going to enjoy Split. There is so much to take in, that you may want to watch it again in order to catch everything that you may have missed the first time. Even if you are skeptical or think the content may be offensive to the mental-illness community, you may be surprised that there is a lot that can be gleaned from the narrative. With brilliant performances, excellent writing, and outstanding direction, Split should be on your radar of films to watch this weekend.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

“The Purge: Election Year” movie review

PurgeElectionElection results are in! Get ready once again for this year’s annual purge. From Universal Pictures and Blumhouse, The Purge: Election Year is a cinematic rollercoaster of espionage, action, revenge, campaigns, and of course the trade mark unbridled violence. Horror is one of my favorite genres to discuss because this genre often includes fantastic themes and subtext that act as social commentary on gender, politics, religion, economics, sex, or technology. Going into this movie, I was already prepared for the political themes, but there are many more themes for one to discuss with this film. In many ways, I am not even sure how to proceed with analyzing it. Cinematically, or from a technical perspective, the movie is fantastic. Yeah, a little campy at times but that is par for the course. Contains just the right amount of comedy, albeit dark, to balance out the darker or heavier elements. The fact that this movie is truly prompting me to think about its content is fascinating. Often times, I have a good idea of how I am going review a movie while I am driving home from the theatre; but this one is definitely requiring me to think about it more than I typically need to. I suppose that entire articles could be written on any one theme in the movie, but I only have 1000-1500 words to analyze it. Haha. The biggest question is whether or not this movie is actually counterproductive.

Two ideas of how life should be in the United States are at war, or at least that’s how it plays out on the debate stage. Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor) and Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) are going head to head over the purpose and necessity of the annual purge as started and supported by the reigning New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) regime. Just two days before the annual event, the NFFA makes the decision not to exempt anyone, not even government officials ranking 10 or higher, from this year’s purging. After an inside job threatens the life of Senator Roan in her own home, she and her trusted chief of security bodyguard Frank Grillo (Leo Barnes) must seek safety. With only Senator Roan standing in the way of the NFFA winning another election, the NFFA and hires assassins will stop at nothing until she is defeated. After a chance meeting with supporters of Roan, Frank and Senator Roan team up with the small band of rebels to survive the night at an attempt to end the chaos and win the election.

Although the first movie did not exactly have much in the way of social commentary themes beyond greed, Purge: Anarchy and this present installment are certainly drenched with rich themes that could fuel discussions for hours. One could surmise that the principle theme of the second installment in this thriller franchise was rich v poor. A very apropos theme considering the US economy was only-then emerging and beginning to grow from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Walking into this movie, I was prepared for political themes; but politics was only a principle element in the plot by extension and used as a highway to get from beginning to end. Not even in subtext, but the predominant theme of Purge: Election Year is clearly white v black. I find this concept and theme is dangerously and carelessly carried out because it really serves to perpetuate the idea that there is a difference between whites and blacks in the Unites States. Instead of the movie showing audiences what could, albeit unlikely, happen in a future America if not challenged or changed, it serves to add fuel to the fire that there is a difference. Furthermore, I find that the movie is unfair to both whites and blacks. It’s unfair to whites because it shows most of them having a hatred from blacks and nearly unanimously in favor of the purge while it depicts the predominant demographic of violent offenders as blacks. Now, I am sure the intention of the movie is not to be counterproductive or perpetuating a negative idea, after all it is produced to be entertaining; however, it’s difficult to watch the movie without wondering if it really is counterproductive in message and theme.

Beyond the social commentary on white v black, the movie also spent a lot of time on the perversion of organized religion. Although the religious aspect to the NFFA was included in the previous installment on a minor level, Purge: Election Year spends a great deal of time connecting a perverted organized version of warped Christianity (very much Catholic or Anglican in structure) to the driving forces behind the NFFA’s passion for and dedication to the annual purge. Just like I feel that the producers and writers of this movie crossed the line with the white v black violence, I feel that this version of organized religion only serves to perpetuate the idea that those in organized relation (mostly Christianity) are hate mongers. Obviously, most people know that this isn’t the case; however, that idea is certainly out there because of differing views on some socio-political areas of community and life in general. Perhaps the movie is commenting on how different groups of people may perceive one another. If that is the case, then the groups of people depicted in the movie can gain a better understanding of how an opposing side views them. Sometimes seeing your actions through another’s eyes helps to ignite positive change. I think that is a beauty in a film like this. It can be read in so many different ways and dissected to support one theme or another.

Quite the antithesis of the U.S. holiday most will be celebrating in one way or another this weekend, The Purge: Election Year paints a picture of a fractured country. In light of the recent massacre at Pulse in Orlando and other massively violent acts around the world, I am not entirely sure how well this movie will do over the weekend. Certainly around here, it may not be well-attended since I live in the Central Florida area and have been there many times myself. Universal Studios Florida is even revisiting the inclusion of The Purge as a house at this year’s Halloween Horror Nights. If for no other reason, this movie stirs may emotions whether they are motivated by race religion, or socio-economics. Like with most horror movies, I suggest watching this one with a friend or two. That way you can have fun discussing it afterwards.

“The Visit” movie review

TheVisitOver the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go…You’ll never think of visiting your grandparents in the same way ever again. I just have to say, congratulations M. Night Shyamalan for making a triumphant return to the horror genre. Blumhouse and Universal Pictures’ The Visit is a found footage/documentary style horror film that has a lot to offer as we slowly gear up for the Halloween season in the coming weeks. The film successfully pairs blood curdling thrills with belly laughs. What can be more terrifying than a visit to grandma and grandpa’s that has gone terribly wrong??? Sometimes the best horror films are those that take what is otherwise non-descript or safe and twist it around and turn it inside out. And, that is what you get with The Visit. One of the best parts of the movie is that the–what you thought were spoilers in the trailer–are not quite as they seemed and will still catch you off guard. Perhaps next time you visit your grandparents, you may not want to leave your room after 9:30 in the evening. This is especially true if your grandparents live way out in the sticks where the only connection to the internet is an ethernet cable.

After years of separation and ignoring one another, a single mother (Kathryn Hahn) makes contact over social media with her estranged parents in the woods of Pennsylvania. Reluctantly, she decides to allow her kids Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) to take a train to visit their newly discovered grandparents against Mom’s better judgment. The timing works out because Mom has a new boyfriend that has invited her on a cruise to escape the snow and bask in the sun. Upon arrival in their grandparents’ jerkwater hamlet, Becca and Tyler soon become concerned about their grandparents’ bizarre behavior. Rules like stay out of the basement and don’t leave your room after 9:30 in the evening are just the beginning of the strange and terrifying encounters that lurk behind corners and under porches. Fearful for their lives and virtually cut off from the outside world, Becca and Tyler must carefully and skillfully escape the warm kitchen, delightful cookies, and old world that has them trapped.

Okay, at first I was disappointed that it was going to be another found footage or point-of-view documentary style movie. Unless I had missed something, the preview did not lead me to believe that it would be shot POV. I was hoping for a traditional narrative that was shot mostly objectively. However, as I watched the movie, I actually found the documentary style shoot to work for the film quite well. Took a little getting used to, but in the end, it was a great method for telling this terrifying tale of a visit to grandma’s. Although the pacing does start off on the slow side, it picks up and will have you sucked in before you know it. From the moment that you meet grandma and grandpa, you know that there is just something not right. And, just like a good horror or suspense movie should, you won’t know that that is until the end of the movie during the climax–you most likely won’t see it coming.

One of the many positive elements of the movie is Shyamalan’s ability to integrate humor with the terror. One minute you will be laughing along with the kids, and the next you will shoot right up out of your seat with fright. There are even parts that will gross you out while other parts of the film contain mouth-watering homemade delights. They all work together to disorientate the audience. One of the best methods to ensure a scare is to keep the audience off balance. This way, you can hit them with a jump scare here, a warm moment there, and sneak in from behind and scare them. The disorientation allows for the narrative to build up to the most horrific elements of the movie. It’s like, the audience is in the midst of a horror movie before they know it. Building suspense is paramount to a well-written horror film. Not that jump scares aren’t important, but a film should very rarely ever build a foundation upon solely them. Building suspense lasts, a jump scare is like a firecracker–lows up quickly and dissipates just as fast.

If you are in the mood for a fun horror film before hitting Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida/Hollywood or Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa/Williamsburg, or just want to put on the movie movie on your boyfriend or girlfriend, then definitely check out The Visit while it is in theaters.