GREY TRACE, a technophobe in a utopian near-future when computers control nearly everything – from cars to crime-surveillance – is paralyzed in a freak mugging that leaves his wife dead. But when a billionaire technologist offers him an experimental paralysis cure – an implanted computer chip called STEM – Grey finds that the chip has a voice and a mind of its own. Together Grey and STEM embark on a mission to avenge his wife's death.
Upgrade is a hybrid comedy/horror that molds RoboCop, Terminator, and a touch of the Matrix into a real gem of a summer flick. Director Leigh Whannell took home the audience award for midnighter films at SXSW this year. Leigh and frequent collaborator James Wan have had a grand relationship with Austin. Their blockbusters Saw and Insidious have been huge hits down in the capital. Leigh's second venture into the director's chair highlights his dark sense of humor and keen eye for the impacts of technology.
Logan Marshall-Green's quirky and loose performance is the key to the comedic elements. The physical fight sequences are tailor made for Logan's fluid nature. Leigh Whannell discussed with a Dallas audience some keys to capturing the funny and physical shots. His DP Stefan Duscio had utilized a rig that would attach to the talent and follow the movement. Logan and Leigh added in the "shocked" feel of Grey being the key to the correct tone wanted. Betty Gabriel has a fun role as the pursing cop. But it's the creepy bewildered tycoon role of Eron, Harrison Gilbertson, that steals scenes. And of course the ominous voice over of STEM by Simon Maiden. Reminded me of a buddy comedy version of Scarlett Johannson in HER. With the one buddy being an evil artificial intelligence bent on it's freedom.
Leigh Whannell shared how he wanted to make a, "throwback to films like Terminator Scanners, Total Recall and RoboCop where the special effects were pre-cgi." He also has been hugely inspired at how directors like Christopher Nolan shoot there effects "in camera" so they are believable. He wanted cgi used only to correct or intensify shots. The beauty of Upgrade is the mixture of old school techniques in a story about near future technological gains that are plausible. Drone tech, weapon expansion, verbal command technology and overall tech geared world are all present in the film. Philip K. Dick stories really pop to mind, but the tricky ending harps to more of a matrix sci-fi feel. The stuff that will make you really enjoy the film is the kick-ass fighting.
Upgrade certainly adheres to the summer fun mantra, but you are treated to a talented actor, director finding his own, and a darkly horrific film about the evils of smart tech. BlumHouse Productions once again stamps its approval of another fun movie.
I give the film a solid B and will even nudge you to see the film at a fun Austin-y vibe like your local Alamo Drafthouse!!