Released: 14th June
Seen: 21st June
Writer/Director Leigh Whannell has really been one of the key figureheads in the shifting of the horror landscape in recent years. With his friend James Wan, Leigh introduced the Saw franchise into the world and with it brought a more raw intense kind of horror film into the landscape (And inadvertently created the term ‘Torture Porn’, a stupid description thought up by people who hate the horror genre in general) and really created a visual aesthetic that films since have been trying to recreate since 2004. Now with Upgrade, over a decade of practical knowledge has been put to good use to create a fun, fresh, action-filled joyride of a movie that only has a few minor bumps along the way.
The film focusses on Grey Trace (Played by Logan Marshall-Green), a technophobe living in a technical world along with his technical girl, Asha (Played by Melanie Vallejo) and they live a pretty good life together. He spends his days fixing classic cars while she spends her days working for a company called Cobalt which specialises in cybernetic implants. Apparently, in this not-to-distant future, there is an awful lot of people running about with strange implants of various kinds. There’s also a lot of fancy self-driving cars and during a ride home, the self-driving car decides to stop driving properly leaving Grey and Asha in a bad area of town where they are found by four men with masks who kill Asha and sever Grey’s spine, leaving him paralised. Just when Grey thinks all hope is lost and that he might be stuck in a wheelchair forever, unable to do anything to get back for what happened to his wife, he’s given an offer by a man called Eron (Played by Harrison Gilbertson) who develops cybernetic implants of his own. He has a new invention called “STEM” (Get it? Like Stem Cell… HA!) and want’s to implant it into Grey and give him the ability to walk again… inadvertently also giving him the ability to get his revenge on those who killed his wife.
In general, from start to finish this film is a ridiculous amount of fun. The writing is clever and feels like real conversations that real people would actually have, with maybe the weird exception of Asha’s habit of calling Grey “Husband” which just feels odd to me but heck, maybe it’s more common than I realise. I really like Grey Trace, he has this great vibe to him and just feels like your average guy who just happens to be living in an insane world filled with technology. He’s a very hands-on guy and the actor is doing some really interesting things. Some moments, like where his body has to do one thing while his head reacts to what his body is doing, are really well done and endlessly entertaining to watch. All the actors really do give some good performances, but Logan is the real standout here.
What also stands out is the visual style which is a bit hit and miss for me. Sometimes the shots are genius, shots where Grey rises from the floor and the world seems to move around him is great once or twice. It’s less good when he does a cartwheel and turns the screen into a bland brown blur. It’s trying to make everything seem superhuman and in small moments it works, some of the intense camera motions in early fights make them soar but other times it becomes impossible to follow just what’s going on. Same with the effects, some of the early moments of violence are impactful and hard to watch but then there’s a scene where we’re meant to believe someone was tortured to death and it just looks like they cut themselves shaving. Little things like that irked me a little, but they, fortunately, don’t detract from what works about the film.
This films big problem is its bad guys who are kind of just there. They aren’t really personalities or characters, I couldn’t tell you their names except for Fisk (Played by Benedict Hardie) who is the ‘leader’ of the gang of four, but he’s also my biggest problem because he has, objectively, the dumbest moment in the movie. I’m not going to go into detail but I can now confirm that I’ve seen someone be sneezed to death… yes, that happens, it’s semi-explained, but it’s really stupid and never brought up again even when that kind of power could’ve been handy. It’s the only time something that weird happens, the rest just feels like real upgrades that a human could potentially get but that one was so silly that it actually made me spend the rest of the scene looking around to make sure I wasn’t the only one who saw that. It’s a very stupid moment that just doesn’t work.
What’s fortunate is that the majority of this film works and works really well. It’s a good fun movie with some creative ideas, some great performances, great stuntwork and really nice visuals. It has a lot going for it and is absolutely worthy of your time.