- Emma Simmonds
- 27 August 2018
Action-packed, sporadically hilarious sci-fi thriller from Leigh Whannell
Glistening sci-fi served with a side order of ultra-violence, Upgrade sees the creator of the Saw and Insidious franchises, Leigh Whannell, lighten up for a tidy little thriller that takes a high-concept premise – RoboCop meets Death Wish – and seasons with both black and absurdist humour.
Set in a tech-saturated future, it follows Luddite mechanic Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) as he falls victim to a seemingly random robbery, which leaves his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) dead and him a quadriplegic. Despondent and longing to join her in death, he's offered the chance of total recovery by creepy whizz-kid Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), a former client eager to implant a cutting-edge but untried AI chip, dubbed 'Stem', into Grey, in an attempt to bridge the gap between his brain and his limbs. While it works wonderfully, what Eron neglects to tell Grey is that Stem has a mind, and voice, of its own.
At first, this outlandish new set-up proves surprisingly useful; Stem helps Grey track down his wife's killers (as Betty Gabriel's cop lags behind) and imbues him with the ninja skills to take them down. But, during moments where he cedes control to the super computer within, Grey becomes a reluctant passenger to some wincingly violent showdowns, with Marshall-Green's incredulous reactions absolutely priceless.
Although Whannell is an experienced screenwriter, it's only the second directorial outing for one of the key names in genre filmmaking and he delivers a well-paced, sometimes indecently entertaining sophomore effort. The film's vision of the future – shimmering steel and chalky slate – is all the more impressive for having been realised on a low budget.
Less an attempt to reinvent the wheel, more a canny hybrid combining beloved sci-fi and horror tropes, Upgrade fuses Cronenberg-esque body horror with the gore-splattered slapstick and body-part battling of the Evil Dead franchise, and its use of knowing humour recalls recent genre gem The Guest. Furthermore, in its supreme neatness it plays out like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone, while a Saw-style final twist of the knife supplies the requisite chills, tying it nicely to Whannell's own oeuvre.
General release from Fri 31 Aug.