Upgrade is a dark science fiction/‘body horror’ drama, complete with moments of violence and gore that prove awfully funny.
Writer/director Leigh Whannell is a major Hollywood player after his long collaboration with James Wan resulted in the Saw and Insidious films, but this film sees him go solo in the director’s chair.
As an Australian production shot in Whannell’s hometown of Melbourne, this is obviously made on a medium budget and, despite some cool FX and car chases, occasionally looks a little cheap around the edges. Yet it more than makes up for it with harsh humour and a star-making performance by Logan Marshall-Green (looking more than a bit like Tom Hardy, which rather helps).
In some unspecified future where Blade Runner cityscapes alternate with what are obviously contemporary Melbourne streets, we meet the slightly sour Grey Trace (Marshall-Green), a mechanic who tinkers with 20th century cars due to his mistrust of modern technology. He takes his beloved wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) to meet reclusive, slightly clichéd tech entrepreneur Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) and drop off a vehicle, which sets into play a series of events that seem to be taking this in a certain direction — but aren’t.
Grey winds up alone and paralysed (there’s a touch of George Romero’s Monkey Shines here, and Whannell knows it), and after months of hiding, Eron secretly offers him the chance to have ‘STEM’ implanted in his spine, a not-quite-ethical, not-exactly-tested system that will allow Grey to walk like a sort of robot.
It does more than that, of course, and soon a mysterious computer voice is in Grey’s head, helping him out as he starts down a dangerous path of unveiling a conspiracy with a little Death–Wish-type score-settling along the way. This results in some nastily amusing plot diversions, moments of bloody intensity, nifty action, nice work from Marshall-Green and a handful of plot twists you won’t see coming.
Despite its small flaws, it’s a sub-guilty-pleasure you might hate yourself in the morning for thoroughly enjoying. And that’s all because of the multi-talented Whannell, who’s truly a genre-movie renaissance man. Just plug him in and watch him go.
Rated MA. Upgrade is in cinemas now.