Upgrade movie review Logan Marshall-Green Betty GabrielYear: 2018
Director(s): Leigh Whannell
Writer(s): Leigh Whannell
Region of Origin: USA, Australia

Rating: R
Digital, Color, 95 mins

Synopsis: A technophobe’s only hope for revenge is an experimental computer chip implant called STEM. (Source)

Action films have had a bit of a resurgence lately, but there’s still something to be said about the limitations and ingenuity of the classics. Though they didn’t have giant budgets or seamless CGI, the ones that’ve stood the test of time are undeniable examples of creativity and wit. On every front, Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade is a return to this type of razor sharp filmmaking. This is the cautionary snark of Verhoeven, the body horror of Cronenberg and the lethal world-building of John Wick – and that’s just scratching the surface. Whannell’s latest is an unflinching experience, throwing us into a cyberpunk neon nightmare and leaving us begging for more. Thanks to its grisly action and unrelenting pace, Upgrade is the gory popcorn hit of the Summer.

Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) is a technophobe mechanic who restores classic cars out of his garage. At a time when almost everything is run by intuitive AI, Grey’s lifestyle and vocation are old-fashioned. It’s also in stark contrast to his wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo), who works for a popular tech company. While delivering a car to one of his clients, a horrible incident results in the murder of Grey’s wife. Grey is left a quadriplegic, but offered a top secret, experimental treatment. This comes from his biggest client, who happens to be the head of a giant tech corp. The treatment is a piece of tech called STEM, and promises to restore full mobility. After some hesitancy, Grey commits, but soon learns that STEM is much more than a simple implant. It’s an AI that lives, learns and can talk to Grey exclusively, eventually helping to track down the men who killed his wife and left him for dead.

Upgrade movie Logan Marshall-GreenNarratively, Whannell’s film is a perfect synergy of tight direction, rich world building and genre subversion. Whannell takes what could’ve been a routine whodunit, and renders a world built from the ground up, tethering a healthy fear of technology to a world increasingly reliant on hi-tech automation. These ideas are seeded into every scene without ever bogging down the main mystery or Grey’s search for answers. Needless to say, the film takes a third act shift that makes us reevaluate everything we thought we knew. It then barrels headfirst into a bleak whopper of an ending. Still, no matter how seriously the film takes the implications of its tech, the film remains fun and full of energy, consistently exploring darkness without sacrificing thrills.

What will no doubt become iconic about the film are its dizzying action scenes. These involve Whannell syncing the camera to Grey’s acrobatic, superhuman movements. Aided by STEM, Grey becomes an unwitting killing machine, and Whannell makes sure the delirium and energy of each showdown transcends the screen with breathtaking choreography and balletic chaos. It’s something better seen than explained, but trust me, it’s an approach that feels truly fresh. On top of this, the film is gleefully brutal, never holding back in terms of blood or exploding body parts. Of course, these moments come at us when we don’t expect, presented with old-school practical effects which add a liberal dose of body horror.

Upgrade movie review Logan Marshall-Green Melanie VallejoPerformance-wise, we get a diverse, quirky ensemble. What the film really proves, is that star Logan Marshall-Green is a severely underused talent. Having already killed it in The Invitation, Marshall-Green gets to turn in a nuanced performance that balances dramatic heft with some genuine comedic chops. A big portion of the film deals with Grey’s and STEM’s inner monologue, with both sometimes conflicting on how to handle a given situation. This tension is played out really cleverly throughout, allowing Marshall-Green to display both an outward physicality and inward strain. Opposite, Simon Maiden lends voice chops to STEM, Benedict Hardie creates a baddie with genuine conviction, Harrison Gilbertson is an eccentric inventor and Betty Gabriel makes gives her detective a more sympathetic slant. Everyone pulls their weight and adds the appropriate texture to Whannell’s off-kilter film.

Upgrade hews closest to the straight-to-video B-movies of the past, but actually has something to say and is crafted by a smart director. Whannell’s film, as niche and absurd as it may be, is perfect for those looking for something that feels dangerous and doesn’t play by the rules. With its abundance of stomach-churning practical effects, a scary view of the future, and a slick, unhinged sense of paranoia, Upgrade is a classic in the making. I already need to see it again…. and again.