OTL Releasing (2018)
Director: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson, Melaine Vallejo
A sci-fi set in the future without being ‘dystopian’ – WAHOO!
Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade is just that and it’s so satisfying to be able to say that. Best known for his horror works, this slab of sci-fi horror is a nice change of tact from one of the men responsible for the Insidious and Saw franchises (lest we forget also, Doggie Heaven…shudder). Backed by the low-budget production powerhouse model of Blumhouse and with the brooding Logan Marshall-Green leading the way, Upgrade would, at least, be an interesting affair even if it wasn’t very good.
Set in the not too distant future, Upgrade finds a world on the very brink of a technological revolution. Advances in AI and computer tech have allowed more and more people access to the greater benefits at hand, including Asha (Vallejo), the wife of technophobe Grey (Marshall-Green). When Grey’s life takes a turn for the worst, it’s a powerful, yet experimental, computer implant called STEM that will help him seek vengeance against those who wronged him.
The future looks pretty good here compared to almost every other ‘near-future’ sci-fi effort – generally drenched in neon, seemingly everything flies and humans dress all cyberpunk-y. People still look like people, the new tech is blended in with existing tech and generally, everything looks pretty similar to now. First step complete, I can identify with the setting. With Whannell’s horror background, it was apparent that it would rear its head here and when it does, it’s effective and brutally realised. Upgrade isn’t a movie that’s afraid to get its hands dirty and bloodied. Some great action scenes are combined with inventive ways to kill the bad guys, plus a little humour too, to create a compelling revenge flick.
Logan Marshall-Green gets beardy and gloomy once again as Grey Trace, the man at the centre of the movie. The depressive character portrayal works just fine here (given the events of the movie) and Marshall-Green delivers a good turn. The remaining cast are all solid and that would pretty much sum up every aspect of Upgrade – solid. The FX work is very good given the small budget, the story is absorbing and the final act came as a welcome surprise. Brutal actions scenes work well together with moments of minor levity as STEM and Grey come to terms with living alongside one another. The grey (no pun intended) aesthetic also compliments the narrative.
Upgrade isn’t a fully unique or original story, but it succeeds because it feels fresh and its consistent pace powers the movie along. When sci-fi and horror collide successfully, the results are usually positive and Upgrade is another good example of this.
September 3rd 2018