Leigh Whannell’s sci-fi horror movie Upgrade began brightly in the US last weekend, drawing plaudits from reviewers and registering the second biggest debut ever for its distributor BHTilt.

Meanwhile Simon Baker’s Breath platformed at the Angelika Film Centre in New York City, posting a decent per-screen average on the back of largely positive reviews.

Produced by Blumhouse Productions’ Jason Blum and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones with Goalpost Pictures’ Kylie du Fresne, the Melbourne-shot Upgrade raked in $US4.67 million on 1,457 screens, ranking at No.6.

That wasn’t far behind BHTilt’s best performing title, Greg McLean’s The Darkness, which drummed up $US4.95 million in its first weekend and finished with $US10.7 million.

These genre films are targeted primarily at men aged 17-40 and rely largely on a digital marketing campaign which is less than half the amount spent on traditional studio releases. In this case there was some TV and outdoor advertising in Los Angeles and New York as well as a 15-city advance screening tour with Whannell.

As Deadline.com notes: “Typically, these BH Tilt pics are structured whereby if they do more than a 2x multiple, then business is great.”

Continuing to benefit from the critical buzz which started when Upgrade won the audience midnight award at the SXSW festival, the film had the highest approval rating of all the weekend’s wide releases: 85 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes.

That bodes well for the June 14 Australian release via Madman Entertainment. Logan Marshall-Green plays Grey, a mechanic who loves tinkering with cars. After a mysterious car accident he and his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) are attacked by four men. Asha is killed and Grey is left paralysed from the neck down.

Billionaire geek Eron (Harrison Gilbertson) offers Grey a cure: a “Stem” chip implant that could reactivate his atrophying muscles and help him wreak revenge. Get Out’s Betty Gabriel plays the detective in charge of Asha’s murder case.

Released by FilmRise, Breath rang up $US5,258 at its New York showcase, the start of a gradual rollout over the coming weeks. Produced by See Pictures and Mark Johnson’s Gran Via Productions, the coming-of-age saga based on the Tim Winton novel has grossed $3.8 million after its fifth weekend in Oz and will surpass $4 million.

The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis lauded Baker’s film as “an appealing, familiar coming-of-age tale about a boy and his friend who, as innocence gives way to prickly adult complication, take divergent paths.”

Baker’s character Sando dispenses “gnomic wisdom that announces the story’s metaphysical ambitions,” she observed, adding, “There’s a lot to like about Breath, including its attention to natural beauty and to how surfing can become a bridge to that splendour.”

Rolling Stone’s Pete Travers praised the performances of Baker and the two young leads, Samson Coulter and Ben Spence, concluding, “Breath is a film of moments that don’t always tie together. But when they do – oh, how they soar.”

Less impressed, the New York Observer’s Rex Reed acknowledged the film is not without its pleasures but said “it takes longer for the boys to grow up than it does to master Big Smokey. It needs a push, an edge, a reason to care about what happens next.”

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