The films of Leigh Whannell
Insidious: Chapter 3 (June 23/15)
A prequel to its two predecessors, Insidious: Chapter 3 follows the Brenner family (Dermot Mulroney's Sean, Stefanie Scott's Quinn, and Tate Berney's Alex) as their new home is increasingly menaced by an unseen (and decidedly malevolent) entity - with the characters eventually forced to turn to Lin Shaye's psychic and a pair of goofball internet ghost hunters (Leigh Whannell's Specs and Angus Sampson's Tucker). Screenwriter and first-time director Whannell has infused Insidious: Chapter 3 with precisely the sort of deliberate execution that one has come to expect from this series (and films of this ilk), with the lackadaisical pace effectively establishing the newly-introduced characters and cultivating an atmosphere of slow-burning dread - although, by that same token, it's just as clear that the lack of horrific happenings within the movie's first half is sure to test the patience of certain viewers. Whannell's old-school sensibilities are reflected most keenly in the movie's overtly tense moments, as the filmmaker does an effective job of infusing such sequences with a palpably suspenseful vibe that is, for the most part, free of modern-day jump scares. (This isn't to say that random instances of surprise shocks are completely absent, of course.) And while Whannell peppers the narrative with a handful of unusually engrossing interludes - eg a central character is possessed by the aforementioned entity - Insidious: Chapter 3, as a slightly above-average ghost story, ultimately falls right in line with both Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 2 and it's finally clear that the movie will leave fans satisfied (and detractors as disappointed as ever).
Set in a near future, Upgrade follows Logan Marshall-Green's technophobic Grey Trace as he's implanted with an experimental computer-chip that essentially transforms him into a superman - with the narrative detailing Grey's ongoing efforts at avenging the death of his wife (Melanie Vallejo's Asha). It's a solid premise that's employ to watchable and occasionally enthralling effect by filmmaker Leigh Whannell, as the writer/director's stylish approach to the somewhat familiar material ensures that there are few lulls within the movie's 100 minute running time - although, by that same token, it's hard to deny that certain portions of the midsection ultimately do drag and sag a little. There's little doubt that the film benefits strongly from the initial emphasis placed on the relationship between Marshall-Green and Vallejo's respective characters, with the pair's ample chemistry together ensuring that Grey's eventual turn towards extreme violence is resonant and satisfying (ie the film works best as a Death Wish-like revenge thriller). Grey's quest is so compelling, in fact that the plot's various other components aren't able to fare quite as well, with the most obvious (and palpable) example of this Whannell's decision to continually stress the comings and goings of a cop (Betty Gabriel's Cortez) on Grey's trail. Such concerns are generally allayed by an otherwise engaging vibe and a note-perfect (and impressively grim) conclusion, which does, in the final analysis, confirm Upgrade's place as a solid endeavor from an increasingly strong voice in the world of horror.