The writer of 'Saw' Leigh Whannell slides into the director's chair after his debut movie 'Insidious: chapter 3' this time taking on a sci-fi revenge story called 'Upgrade'. Starring Logan Marshall-Green as 'Grey' a Tom Hardy look-a-like (certainly in this movie) who shuns technology and prefers the analogue more tangible world of cars and engine grease over anything 'advanced'.
When his life unexpectedly changes after he and his wife are viciously slain by 'Tech enhanced' humans Grey must turn to technology to reverse his spinal paralysis inserting an experimental chip call Stem' into his central nervous system. Together they form an unlikely allience to seek revenge against him and his wife's attackers.
Reportedly made for just over 5 Million dollars under the Blumhouse banner 'Upgrade' does make good use of its budget even though at times you can tell that the budget was a little tight for the type of story they were trying to tell. I often felt that it needed a bigger budget to fully realise the world and as a result it was lacking in some areas. That's not to say that the world isn't realised no, just not realised to its fullest potential.
It felt like a smaller movie masquerading as something bigger and sometimes the production design suffers as a result. In the empire podcast(Embedded below) Leigh alludes to the fact that he had written a much bigger budgeted screenplay and slowly whittled it down to its current incarnation. With a budget so tight they do a great job of the physical special effects. They are at times violent and bloody and suitably macabre. The movie is well shot and the action scenes have a nice energy to them. What lets the movie down a little is the one dimensional characters - we've seen them before perhaps done better - Grey is the only character with some depth to him if only surface.
It is an action movie which tries to replicate the tech noir gritty stylings of 'Robocop' and 'The terminator'. In this regard it doesn't entirely succeed. Those movies still superior despite being made over twenty-five years ago. When the plot is so simple getting that aspect right perhaps should have been a priority.
When Stem interacts with Grey their exchanges are fun and there is sense that not all is as it seems when 'Stem' requests that protection barriers be stripped away from its operating code. We are party to a twist that isn't quite a twist if you pay attention closely to the movie. Suffice to say that 'Stem' has other plans for Grey and they don't include being in a symbiotic relationship together.
When the finale rolls around, the tone of the movie shifts slightly to the familiar theme of being weary of technology. Perhaps we should be scared that the ghost in the machine may be looking back us waiting for a day when 'it' can take over. In a very real sense that day be sooner than we think with more advanced AI being produced daily. But that's another discussion entirely. Suffice to say that the ending of 'Upgrade' is appropriate but not entirely satisfying.
*** out of *****
Find below the Empire podcast featuring an interview with the director of 'Upgrade' Leigh Whannell. Enjoy!