UPGRADE is the kind of movie that’ll ensure more opportunities for director Leigh Whannell. The so-so actor is known for helping build the SAW franchise along with James Wan. Of course Wan is the bigger name in the movie world because of his deft handling of THE CONJURING and rejuvenation of the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise. But where Wan has always been a director and has slowly been earning respect, Whannell may have just earned the respect up front with his revenge fantasy flick.
I looked at a handful of sci-fi movies in 2018 (ANNIHILATION, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX and A WRINKLE TIME) and they all have a few things in common. They have big names attached to them and have millions of dollars in studio backing. Another common denominator, I kind of hated all of them. And yes I know I cherry picked those movies as opposed to comparing UPGRADE to A QUIET PLACE or this year’s superhero films. UPGRADE is one of those midnight cult classics that your friends will be telling you to watch on a streaming service or they’ll gladly bring by their Blu-ray copy for you to watch; and for good reason.
UPGRADE is like DEATH WISH in the near future with hints of ROBOCOP and THE MACHINE (a 2013 movie you should add to your must-watch list). Grey (Marshall-Green) is wheelchair bound after unknown men at a homeless camp paralyze him with a gunshot to the spine. But that’s not the most painful things to happen to him. He helplessly watched as those same men turned the barrel to his wife, killing her in cold blood. Several months later, he’s given a shot at a new life, with an implant called STEM. The AI chip serves as a second brain, not only communicating with Grey, but also helping him become mobile once again. But after he regains movement, STEM talks with him about his wife’s murder and begins helping him track down the men responsible for her gruesome murder.
While the film starts a little slow, it picks up steam once Grey becomes a killing machine thanks to STEM. The violence is brutal, the story sometimes borders on schlocky satire and the film culminates into a worthy homage to 80’s sci-fi and body horror. For a film with about $5 million in budgeting, it does a fine job at creative kills, world building and a nuanced social commentary. Not to say that budget can affect a creator’s intentions, but this is a film that looks awfully good on a contemporary shoestring budget. It helps that Whannell manages to throw some fresh twists and turns in a familiar formula.
Marshall-Green, who some might confuse with Tom Hardy on visual inspection, keeps the film surprisingly humorous and helps the audience relate with his character. Grey is a sympathetic mechanic whose distaste for certain modern advances will ring true for most. Despite his disdain for the computerized world, he relies on it heavily as it rebuilds him like the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN. Even with that crutch, the film finds malicious ways to reaffirm his tech-hate, as well as twist the knife still wedged in his heart from his wife’s murder.
Even with its faults, UPGRADE is a joy for fans of grindhouse-style films and a pleaser for those who might be on the fence when it comes to this genre. UPGRADE has a lot of fun winking at the screen, which doesn’t match well when it takes a serious turn sometimes. Thankfully it comes together in the end, possibly setting up a sequel, which will be welcomed. While I give all the credit in the world to Whannell and his vision, I can’t help but think that Blumhouse Productions has a knack for producing low budget films that shatter expectations, creatively and financially.
Video: (1080p HD Widescreen 2:39:1) Sometimes the picture quality highlights the low budget special effects, but the techno future and it’s grimy underbelly come through clearly on this Blu-ray.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) No problems audio wise.