Enhanced (2019)

Enhanced first published by VODzilla.co

Hard-assed Sergeant George Shepherd (George Tchortov) leads a covert ops unit of soldiers with unusual weapons to hunt and contain a group of human ‘subjects’ who have escaped the Saisei corporation that enhanced their powers. Closing in on fugitive mechanic Anna (Alanna Bale), George begins to question whether he has been told the truth about these supposedly murderous escapees (who all just seem to be laying low, contributing productively to society and minding their own business), even as he finds himself competing to neutralise them with ‘enhanced serial killer’ David (director James Mark’s brother Chris), who is taking out these people one by one for reasons of his own.

Enhanced, which Mark co-wrote with Matthew Nayman and Peter Van Horne, comes with a narrative dynamic that we have seen many times before. For the scenario wherein a group of othered superhumans are in conflict with both each other and the authorities is already very familiar from, for example, fellow Canadian David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981), the X-men franchise, TV’s Dark Angel (2002), Paul McGuigan’s Push (2009) and Park Hoon-jung’s The Witch: Part 1 – The Subversion (2018). Not only did Mark serve as a stunt double on Doug Liman’s not dissimilar Jumper (2008), in which the soldiers pursuing their mutant quarry were also armed with cattleprod-like ‘sticks’, but Mark’s own debut feature Kill Order (2018) came with a similar premise, also starred his brother as a sleeper super-soldier named David, and might even be regarded as an honorary prequel to Enhanced

So this film is not exactly breaking the mould. Mark’s background is in fight choreography, and he plays to his strength with a number of combat sequences that combine conventional martial arts with the subjects’ more peculiar powers (essentially, the ability to emit blasts of energy, and the odd bit of Vader-like remote-choking or telekinesis) – and those are offset by George’s inner conflicts as this career soldier, well used to following orders, must decide where exactly his allegiances lie. This internal struggle is distributed across several characters, with Anna just trying to fit in as a regular person despite her hidden strengths, and David effectively an immortal god unhappily confined to a mortal body. 

Yet Enhanced is always more ambitious than its budget will allow – so that even a climactic fight with an almost divine power feels somehow downplayed. What is more, the screenplay never quite settles on a sweet spot between tough-guy militarisms, bad-guy monologuing and more amiably human exchanges. For all his calculating sociopathy, David – twice – lets slip a perfect opportunity to kill a key character, for reasons that evidently have more to do with narrative convenience than anything else. The questions of who David is, where he comes from, and what he is trying to achieve, make him far and away the most interesting thing in the film – and yet this is another opportunity squandered, as he remains relatively unexplored as a character, instead being reduced to a villainous cypher. It is not that Enhanced is bad, as such – rather it is undistinguished, failing significantly to mutate, or even just to enhance, what its many predecessors have already accomplished.  

Summary: James Mark’s sci-fi actioner deals in a mutant strain of human, but fails to distinguish itself. 

Anton Bitel