Movie Review by LL Soares
The new movie UPGRADE is a pleasant surprise. I went into it with fairly low expectations, and had a helluva good time with it.
It’s written and directed by Leigh Whannell, whose original claim to fame was a writer of the first three SAW movies (2004 – 2006), as well as DEAD SILENCE (2007) and the INSIDIOUS series. His first directing credit was for INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015). Also an actor, Whannel might be familiar to you for playing Specs, a technician in the “ghost busting” team in the INSIDIOUS films. UPGRADE is his first non-sequel film, and his second film overall as a director.
The film’s plot is incredibly simple. It’s a crime-rampant near future, and a grease monkey who loves working on old cars named Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green, also great in THE INVITIATION, 2015, and the sadly short-lived Cinemax series QUARRY, 2016) is in a driverless car with his wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo), when something goes wrong and they get in an accident (maybe he wasn’t so silly to love old cars after all!). Some criminals descend on the wreackage, killing Asha and leaving Grey a parapalegic.
Tech wunderkind Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), the rich computer genius who Grey was restoring a classic car for in the first scene, offers the wheelchair-bound Grey a choice. Either stay the way he is, or test out a computer chip called Stem that can possibly give him his movement back. At first, Grey just wants to die after what happened. But he eventually comes around, and we cut to some clandestine surgery in Eron’s home, where the chip is implanted in Grey’s spine.
The experiment is a success, and Grey can walk again. But there are some unexpected side effects, the biggest being a voice in Grey’s head that only he can hear, the AI version of STEM (Simon Maiden, whose voicework here is as much of a character as any of the physical people onscreen). It doesn’t take long for STEM (all-capped, all-conscious now, as far as I’m concerned) to offer Grey a chance to track down the low-life criminals who ruined his life and knock them off, one by one. Grey is more than happy to go along for the ride, especially when STEM reveals that when Grey turns over the “controls” to his new friend, he is capable of superhuman feats of strength and violence.
Meanwhile, the detective on the case of what happened to Grey and Asha, Det. Cortez (Berry Gabriel, who was also so memorable as the maid Georgina in GET OUT, 2017), slowly begins putting the pieces together after a series of violent murders in the bad part of town.
Also a treat is Benedict Hardie as a creepy bad guy named Fisk, who is in many ways Grey’s equal. A scene where Fisk kills a bartender with a sneeze is both ludicrious and kind of cool. Fisk is a vicious adversary, and the final showdown between him and Grey (and STEM) is worth the wait.
UPGRADE is yet another in a long line of high-tech revenge stories, and yet somehow it seems fresh and different. Part of it, no doubt, is due to Logan Marshall-Green, who has real screen presence here. The dude’s an underrated actor who deserves a bigger career, and his interactions with robot voice STEM (and once again, I have to give propos to Simon Maiden as that voice) are the highlights of the film, making this a dynamic duo I wouldn’t mind seeing more of. Whannell’s script and direction are also refreshing. While the storyline might sound a little like ROBOCOP (1987), let’s say, it’s still a hundred times more entertaining than 2014’s ROBOCOP reboot.
My only disappointment is that this one didn’t do better at the box office. It’s a low-budget horror/scifi film that shines much brighter than it has a right to, but I wish more people would actually see it.
I give it three and a half knives.
© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares