A man turns to an experimental device to help him after he’s paralyzed in a vicious attack, which left his wife dead. The device is a high-tech chip that gives him unparalleled abilities, but it may not be the saving grace he was hoping for. Written and directed by Saw and Insidious creator Leigh Whannell, Upgrade is the best of revenge thrillers mixed with a masterfully creative futuristic world. With a stellar team behind the name, Blumhouse proves they can branch into various genres and still kill it.
In the not too distant future, Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) rebuilds and sells classic cars. His top client is Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), a reclusive young tech genius whom Grey brings his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) to meet. While there, Eron introduces them to his latest device, STEM, a small computer chip that can do wonders for the human body. When Grey and Asha head home, they are ambushed by a gang who kill Asha and leave Grey paralyzed from the neck down.
Devoid of reason to live without his wife, Grey takes up the opportunity presented to him by Eron. To secretly allow for the chip to be surgically placed on his spinal cord to test its capabilities. The results are astonishing as the chip almost immediately allows Grey to function as though he was never paralyzed. But he quickly discovers that STEM is much more useful than that. The hyper self-aware system can assist Grey in tracking down the men responsible for Asha’s death, and has given him superhuman abilities. With this new useful tool, Grey moves forward to avenge his wife’s death.
Marshall-Green excels in this role and just reminded me how underrated I feel he is. The emotion he evokes throughout his grieving is so incredibly moving, yet he can flip a switch and be so commanding in the action sequences. He was such a perfect fit this and his performance was incredibly fun and engaging.
There’s something extra fun about these revenge films like John Wick and every Liam Neeson film, which have been favorites among modern audiences. When you enter these science-fiction elements into the mix, you don’t want to overwhelm the core story or make it too flashy. With Upgrade, it’s so well rooted in realism that the technology showcased feels very much like objects we will have in the near future. It was all very much a supporting character for the overall plot, really letting that nitty-gritty action portion shine.
Briefly, before the screening, Leigh Whannell joined those of us in the theatre to introduce the film. He stated he wanted to make a throwback film to The Terminator and create something in the science-fiction genre. With Blumhouse only giving him the same budget as Insidious (an estimated $1.5 million), he and his team really had to work with practical effects and get creative in any way they could – and it worked! Whannell has a true talent in horror and they produced some amazing shots with these practical effects. It’s reminiscent of his first big claim to fame, Saw, and also that of Aliens, in terms of genre-mashing.
Upgrade is an exceptional film that is original and exciting, while doing justice to Whannell’s desire to pay tribute to the classics. It’s even more impressive what they were able to accomplish with such a small budget, compared to it’s giant scale. Even having incredible, realistic CGI when they needed it. Another great aspect of this film is that you can feel Whannell’s passion and that fun seeps to those in the audience. Perhaps that is why it took home the “Audience Award – Midnighters” at the SXSW Film Awards.