Review

Upgrade (2018)

Director: Leigh Whannell

Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson

Running time: 100 minutes

3-stars

In a futuristic world of self-driving cars and human augmentations, stay-at-home mechanic Grey Trace (Marshall-Green) isn’t really into all that gadgetry mumbo-jumbo. But after an attack that leaves him paralysed from the neck down and his wife dead, Grey – fuelled by a desire for revenge – is implanted with a sophisticated chip that allows him to move again. But such a privilege comes at a cost…

“Would you help me exact violent revenge on the people who killed my wife?”…

…is not a question you’d ever find yourself asking Alexa.

And after watching Upgrade, you’ll want to stick firmly to questions about the weather.

The latest brainchild of Leigh Whannell – the man behind Saw and Insideous – Upgrade swaps severed limbs for broken ones and jump scares for jump kicks, as it wades in the waters of action-fuelled, neo-western science fiction; combining the narrative threads of Death Wish and Black Mirror with the visual styles of Blade Runner and the choreography of The Matrix.

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Technophobes will be able to instantly relate to the life of Grey Trace – a man who sticks firmly by his guns and refuses to embrace the growing digital, technological age growing around him. Echoing the principles of Will Smith’s Del Spooner from Alex Proyas’ 2004 adaptation of I, Robot, Trace is one wedded to the old, time-tested ways; someone who would much rather spend hours in the garage getting grease under his fingernails doing up classic sports cars than give in to the self-driving car world he exists in.

That is, until an attack leaves him both paralysed and alone, prompting an invitation from mysterious tech pioneer Eron (Gilbertson) – part Niander Wallace, part Elon Musk – to implant an AI microchip that will give Grey the ability to move his body once more – a proposition that Trace reluctantly accepts. What isn’t disclosed in the pre-op discussions, however, is that Grey’s new bodily inhabitant – named STEM – can actually speak to him (in the soothing, HAL-like tones of Simon Maiden) and even work his body independently should Grey wish it so.

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In what begins as an interesting, futuristic spin on the timeless buddy film genre quickly turns into a no-holds bar tale of violent retribution, as Grey and STEM track down those responsible for his situation one by one before handing out some pretty squeamish justice, all the while evading detection from a suspicious detective (Gabriel). There are plot points you’ll want to dig a little deeper on, and some frustratingly thin characterisation; however, Whannell’s story moves at such a rapid pace, from violent set-piece to the next – in almost computer game fashion – that you won’t have the time to question, only bask in the bloody anarchy taking place before your eyes.

Quickly descending from something truly inventive into cliché, Upgrade’s emotional beats never quite hit the intended decibels. Instead, this is all style and little substance – unless that substance happens to be red and spurts every which way from bodily lacerations. In which case, it has that in abundance.

Sadly not an upgrade on what has come before, Upgrade’s primary offering is that of splattery mayhem while joyously revelling in its low-budget, B-movie roots.

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