Brandon Richardson | 29/06/2018
Have you ever wondered what an episode of Black Mirror would be like if they blew it out to feature length and mixed it with the guilty pleasure of B movie gore? No? Neither had we, but after seeing Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade, you’ll wonder why no one had thought of it sooner.
Set in the near-future, were the relentless march of technology has produced a world of constant drone surveillance and cybernetic implants, Upgrade tells the story Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green): a technophobe that prefers to spend his day restoring muscle cars than indulging in the conveniences of the future. His carefree life is ripped away from him when a mugging-gone-wrong sees his wife murdered and leaves him a quadriplegic. Just when everything seems lost, an eccentric billionaire reaches out to Grey to offer him a revolutionary prototype called STEM that will help him bring justice to those that took everything from him.
It is a somewhat surreal experience when you watch a man brutally murdered on screen, the footage sparing no detail as his jaw dislocates and dangles from his skull, and the audience breaks into laughter around you despite the film being a relatively serious thriller up to that point. In this way, Upgrade is a perfect reminder of some of the charm and unique experience that films made on a tight budget can bring us. Whannell delivers a chilling premonition of where humanity's obsession with merging technology with everyday life may lead. He also combines this with a compelling revenge plot filled with as many twists and turns as you could hope for. This is brought to life by a solid performance from Marshall-Green, whose turmoil from his emotional and physical loss is palpable. Much of the humour is derived from the reactions of a man with no control over his body committing gruesome acts of violence; he is just as unsettled as we are.
This is not to say that the story-telling here is top notch; it is a B movie after all. This is mostly evident in some heavy-handed exposition early on, but we are often reminded with the odd clumsy one-liner or clichéd monologue. The same can be said for some of the plot devices and twists that can really stretch your suspension of disbelief. However, where the movie really shines is in its expertly choreographed action sequences, with fight scenes that cut sparingly coupled with exquisite camera work. There are many memorable and creative moments, like a stabilisation lock to Grey’s head as he makes Matrix-style dodges, or the changes in lighting as the distinction between Grey and STEM begins to blur. Every fight feels different and fresh, with the action becoming progressively more brutal as Grey discovers more of his ability.
If you are looking for entertainment, it is hard to go past Upgrade for its sheer value. It is rare to find a genuinely thought-provoking thriller - one that leaves you contemplating its events long after the credits roll - that quite literally packs a punch with some engrossing action sequences. It’s even rarer to find such a film produced on a smaller budget, one that compete with the multitude of summer blockbusters that are releasing around it. However, best of all was that it was made right here in Australia.
Don’t be fooled by the corny looking poster, subtitle or even title (they should have stuck with the original title of STEM): Upgrade is a surprise packet of entertainment that will leave few disappointed.