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Non-Review Review: Upgrade

On a very fundamental level, Upgrade understands the anxieties that drive body horror.

Body horror is largely rooted in the grotesque realisation that human bodies are little more than machines made of meat. After all, every student who has studied biology understands the mechanics of the human body; the processes that drive it, the structures that hold it together, the logic by which it operates. The nerve endings that relay signals from the furthest region of the body back to the brain, the synapses that fire within the brain. Described in such cold and rational terms, human consciousness becomes a mystery, a piece of the puzzle that doesn’t fit. Software we don’t understand running on wet hardware.

What the neck is going on?

More than that, human bodies are inefficient machines. They are soft and squidgy, held together by tendons and muscles stretched over bones built of calcium and hinges filled with synovial fluid. The human body impressive feats of engineering from an evolutionary perspective, through the mere fact that it exists, albeit more vulnerable than the architecture or the mechanics of the world designed by human beings. Bodies can easily be bent and broken, warped and distorted. They can be attacked in so many ways, and fall into disrepair with such ease. They are unreliable, and very difficult to fix.

Upgrade understands that body horror thrives at the intersection of these twin anxieties; the nightmarish uncertainty of how human consciousness fits within the mechanics of basic biology, and the realisation that the human body would never pass basic health and safety standards for any complex piece of machinery. Upgrade wonders what happens when that machine made of meat receives an update to its operating system.

An impressive body of work.

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Non-Review Review: Insidious – Chapter 2

Horror sequels are tough to execute, particularly where you have a returning cast. After all, strong horror films typically work by ramping up the pressure on the central character, building inexorably towards a climax. It’s very hard to follow on from that – where do you go? It’s very difficult to wind the tension back down and start ramping up from scratch, and the same trick is never as effective the second time.

Insidious: Chapter 2 faces these challenges, and – to its credit – it tries to work around them. It embraces an almost camp aesthetic to help compensate for the fact that it effectively kicks off at maximum volume, relishing the sheer absurdity of its demonic co-stars. It splits the main cast up in order to allow it to try to maintain a constant sense of pressure, while also delving into back story and origin. It subtly shifts its frame of reference from movies about possession and haunting toward a different sort of horror film.

However, these attempts aren’t as successful as they might be. While there are moments of wit, the humour and heightened camp occasionally causes tonal confusion. Splitting the cast up is too convenient a narrative device and diffuses (rather than maintains) the tension. Slasher and serial killer movies are hard to get right at the best of times, and the movie’s climax feels awkward grafted on to a possession story. Insidious: Chapter 2 has moments where it works very well, but also spends a significant amount of its running time groping in the dark.

Well, at least it's an amicable haunting...

Well, at least it’s an amicable haunting…

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