“Can I have everybody’s attention. I’m looking for the guys who murdered my wife.”
It’s easy to have a narrow mindset when it comes to the trailers for Blumhouse’s latest film Upgrade, and rightfully so. The film’s story follows vengeful killing machine Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green, or Great Value Tom Hardy) as he navigates his way through the not too distant dystopian future to kill the thugs that murdered his wife–a wife that was just a great plot device. The only possible way for Trace to do this after becoming a quadriplegic is to sign up for an experimental procedure called STEM to rectify his disability.
Think of the film as a cross between the complexity of Frankenstein with the look and feel of Robocop, all cranked up with a synthesizer sound to an eleven. The marketing campaign sadly missed this and audiences should prepare themselves for something more.
Upgrade knows what it is and sells it well with almost pinpoint accuracy. The film is presented as a nostalgia love fest for 80s style violence that was without question considered a hard R that teenagers would stay up late to watch on HBO back in the day.
Most of the side characters do a serviceable—but still forgettable—job in delivering their standardized lines, yet a few of the actors really ham up the scenes in a fun way whenever they’re on screen. Head baddie, Fisk (Benedict Hardie), chews the scene with his messiah complex dialogue as if it was porter house steak cooked to perfection. You’ll see Frankenstein-like monster creator Harrison Gilbertson (Eron) as an asshole at first but trust me when I say you’ll start to sympathize for the guy as the weight of his creation dawns on the character and you realize that he was just a misguided, lost soul.
It may seem like I was making a dig at Green, but despite the man’s past work, he really flexed his acting muscle for this movie. Green takes the scenes where STEM has control of his body and really convinces us that he is no way in control of his actions. They might come off as fun in the beginning, but as the story progresses, a different message slowly bleeds into the character’s actions that begs the question: Are you still you when someone else is in control? I felt more for the character’s loss during the film when Green would have these emotional breaks more so than any of the affection he shared with his wife.
Leigh Whannell came on the scene in a big way with his brilliant film Saw, but has more recently been known for throwaway horror films. With Upgrade, the writer/director has really stepped up his game. While Upgrade starts off simple as a revenge story that shouldn’t require any real thought other than a popcorn flick, what plays out is the idea of A.I. becoming fully aware and if it’s too late to stop it.
Whannell uses a warp stabilizer effect with some notable camera movements that televises the level of control STEM has on our lead character. Although it may come off as simple, it’s orgasmic to the eyes and is in no way disjointed or off-putting. The action helps sell what you want in a violence-laced film but doesn’t overdo it. It ramps up very early in the film and still works well with the body horror aspect of the story that isn’t too far-fetched or overly gross.
The MVS (Most Valuable Scene) of the film is the on-foot chase scene. Trace must escape from two groups of bad guys and Whannell does a near perfect job at directing. Whannell uses the same warp stabilizer/camera movement effect that is sprinkled throughout the film but attached a series of track shots that look awesome and warrants repeat viewing. This really help elevate the tension of the film and was a great set for the multiple twists that comes at the film conclusion.
The movie will without a doubt find home in the cult classic world. It’s a genre film that’s not overly splashed with unnecessary futuristic toy displays. The story presents a dirty grimy setting that fits well with the tone of the plot and keeps your attention with the help of an amazing soundtrack. Go see it.