If there’s one thing to admire about the sci-fi action body horror comedy, Upgrade, it’s watching action sequences that combine physical humor, slick choreography, and psychological horror. Upgrade is the biggest (technically smallest) surprise of the year.
Quadriplegic mechanic Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) gives up on life after his accident and wife’s murder. When an eccentric engineer named Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) offers to restore his mobility, Grey has a microchip implanted in his spine called STEM, which restores his mobility and guides him to avenge his wife’s murder. Grey gruesomely (and effortlessly) kills one killer when STEM takes over. That’s when Grey realizes he has an advantage on the gang with mechanically implanted weapons.
Upgrade sounds ridiculous on paper, but even the most absurd premise can be entertaining. Horror writer/director Leigh Whannell (Saw I-III, Insidious 1-3) shows versatility with this mid-budget genre feast. It starts as a hard sci-fi commentary on technophobia, transitions into a bloody revenge movie, and concludes as a psychological body horror movie. In the end, I wasn’t disappointed.
I haven’t been impressed with Marshall-Green’s previous performances, but he shows great physical and emotional range as Grey. Marshall-Green shows off some badass martial arts skills and expressions of horror during his action sequences; his priceless delivery results in some occasional laughs and convincing depiction of fear.
Marshall-Green also sells Grey’s technophobia and fleshes him out. Grey doesn’t want STEM controlling him, but his desire for revenge prompts him to keep STEM. His humanity mixed with technology reminded me of Peter Weller in the original RoboCop.
Whannell’s script and direction draw themes and tone from Verhoeven’s RoboCop, David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, and John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. Between the small budget, dirty urban settings, excessive gore, and cynical commentary on technology and our government, Upgrade should have these filmmakers cheering.
I was only drawn out of Upgrade when Betty Gabriel’s Detective Cortez appears. Every revenge movie has a police office who suspects the hero is a vigilante and tails them. Cortez is that character and offers no depth or originality.
Still, Upgrade was a total blast and given its final act, there’s franchise potential. And I’m okay with that!