Hatched from the brilliant mind of writer/director Leigh Whannell (co-creator of Saw and Insidious), Upgrade is a revenge story with a cyberpunk, sci-fi twist, subverting itself from the typical genre conventions and tropes of a revenge story with plenty of twists and turns to keep us guessing along the way before everything comes to ahead in its unexpected climax. The story is about a mechanic that gets involved in an incident resulting in his wife being murdered and himself becoming paralyzed from the neck down. He then gets a special operation implanting an AI operating system called STEM into him that allows the ability to control and move his body again. However, with his mind set on revenge and STEM having a mind of his own, the question becomes, who is really in control?
This feels more like a stylized, action-packed B-movie that, while not groundbreaking or original in anyway, still manages to be fun, intense, gruesome and exciting. In fact, the idea of a different being controlling another person’s body feels much better executed here than it did in the ill-judged Venom a few months back. This film has a very 80s, grindhouse feel to it and more like the kind of film that John Carpenter would make as like a companion piece to films like The Thing or Assault on Precinct 13 with the story of Upgrade being tight and smarter than it has any right to be even though we’re not meant to take it very seriously. The visual look and design of the film is gorgeous to look at with some impressive effects work and amazing use of colours, which is all helped enormously by Stefan Duscio’s excellent cinematography. There’s also highly-impressive action sequences contain creative use of choreography and brilliant touches of jet-black humour throughout.
Logan Marshall-Green does a surprisingly solid job at managing to portray the various emotions his character goes through effortlessly, even nailing the controlled body-language of STEM with utter conviction. The downsides to this film is that the villains don’t have much to them other than to look cool with their variously creative gadgets, plus the cop that is investigating both the gang and the protagonist throughout doesn’t offer that much in the grand scheme of things.
However, despite its flaws, Upgrade is a ferocious, sci-fi actioner that delivers on its premise, tells a tight story with a clear direction and pace to it, the action is impeccable and it’s a visually stunning to look at. This film just goes to show that B-movies of this type can be more than just the sum of its parts and is highly-recommended for fans of this genre.
Dir: Leigh Whannell
Scr: Leigh Whannell
Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson, Melanie Vallejo
Prd: Jason Blum, Kylie Du Fresne, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones
DOP: Stefan Duscio
Music: Jed Palmer
Country: US, Australia
Run time: 100 mins
Upgrade is out now on DVD