Directed and Written by: Leigh Whannell
Produced by: Blumhouse Productions, Jason Blum and Goalpost Pictures, Kylie du Fresne
Director of Photography: Stefan Duscio
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson, Simon Maiden, Benedict Hardie, Melanie Vallejo, Richard Cawthorne, Christopher Kirby and Linda Cropper.
Set in the near future, Upgrade introduces a world where bio-technology has begun its take-over, where being stronger, faster and logical is better than the hands-on approach to fixing cars.
It’s rare that someone like mechanic Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) builds cars, real cars that run on oil and require a steering wheel. So when Grey delivers his latest creation to billionaire super-tech, Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson), inventor of an Artificial Intelligence implant, STEM (voice over, Simon Maiden), Grey finds a friend in the most unlikely place.
Because, even with all the drones and digital cars Grey and his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) become victims of a contract killing. Leaving Grey quadriplegic.
Previously anti-digital, it’s technology that allows Grey to track down the people who ruined his life.
Upgrade combines the old-school love story of man-seeking-revenge for his murdered wife with the setting of a world run by technology, the tone reminding me of past films like, The Crow (1994).
Writer and director, Leigh Whannell (creator of Saw and Insidious) notes influences such as, The Terminator (1984) with Arnold Schwarzenegger acting as a cyborg being the special effects and there’s good action here with Logan Marshall-Green as Grey learning specialised movements to make the role of part-man, part-STEM convincing and unique.
But it took me a while to get into the film as the drama felt all too familiar.
The gritty dark alleyways and dripping broken toilets; Grey vomiting when unable to control muscles required to lift his head properly to breath – mixed with futuristic technology like a cloud with flashes of lightening manipulated with human hands made up for some oversights that stretched the believability of the film: atrophied muscles don’t suddenly grow back, even with nerve function.
The visceral action is what made the film for me with handy camera work from Stefan Duscio attaching the camera to the characters, like Grey as he moved around like a crazed ninja robot: the fight scenes well-timed, surprising and bloody.
And adding moments like the stencilled image of robotic arms, fingers extended like horns and Grey in the foreground, in his wheel chair, head slumped, introduced a creative vision, integrating the digital into a world still recognisable as our own.
Although, there’s some good humour that gels the authentic, analogue Grey with his digitized helper STEM, partaking in his life like an alter-ego… I didn’t absolutely love it, the film a little stilted (dare I say artificial?!) and not always believable.
But there’s great technique here and a well-paced story that lifts a low-budget production past the obvious into a film that successfully pushes the boundaries of the action/sci-fi genré.
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