Review by J.T. Johnson
DIRECTOR: Leigh Whannell
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Stefan Duscio
WRITER: Leigh Whannell
MUSIC: Jed Palmer
“Upgrade” is the latest film from writer and director Leigh Whannell, the man behind the screenplays for “Saw” and “Insidious”. The film is an old school B movie with a technological spin. It is also a hell of a ride with a couple of twists that I must admit I didn’t see coming along the way.
The movie starts off by introducing us to Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) and his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo). It is quickly established that this is set somewhere in the near future where technology has advanced to the point where we have self-driving cars and computers built into just about every table. One night, Grey and Asha’s self-driving car malfunctions and they crash.
They are then assaulted by a group of men that kills Asha and turns Grey into a quadriplegic. It’s established that Grey fixes old cars and one of his customers, Eron Keen (Harrsion Gilbertson), also happens to be one of the biggest geniuses in the world. He offers to install a state-of-the-art chip into Grey’s spinal cord, allowing him to walk again.
When Grey returns home, he discovers that the chip has an intelligence as well named “Stem” (Simon Maiden). Soon, the two are working together to track down Asha’s killers. This is where the real fun kicks in as Stem can also take control of Grey’s body and turn him into an effective fighter and killing machine.
The first thing to note is that Marshall-Green gives a great performance as Grey and is really great during the times when Stem takes control of his body. When this occurs, he gives precise movements and performs well choreographed fights that is a highlight of the film. Whannell also gives interesting direction with these scenes as the camera unnaturally follows Grey’s movements, making you feel as disconnected to Grey’s movements as he is.
The only other note that I can say about the action sequences is that they were actually gorier than I thought they’d be. Thankfully, it never goes over the top and the gruesome bits are only there to make an impact during certain points in the film.
The budget for this film was reportedly about $5 million, which is standard for a film that is coming from Blumhouse (under their BH Tilt moniker). However, when you watch this film, you would think that it was made for $100 million easy. The filmmakers really knew how to use their budget wisely and creatively.
As far as the story is concerned, it is a basic revenge thriller at its core. It feels inspired by both “RoboCop” and “Death Wish” yet it has enough twists to hold its own. This is another solid script from Whannell that only really suffers from occasionally stiff dialogue and a slightly slow start. Both of those criticisms are incredibly minor, though.
“Upgrade” has great action, a decent story and good performances all around. I figured there was a good chance that I would like this film before I walked into the theater. It also turns out to be a perfect B movie for the Summer.