Movie Review: ‘Upgrade’


Director: Leigh Whannell

Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson, Benedict Hardie, Melanie Vallejo, Simon Maiden

Plot: Grey is a mechanic who strongly believes in the value of hard work and getting your hands dirty in a world ever more reliant on automated technology. After a car accident and mugging leaves him quadriplegic he is approached by a tech mogul with new technology to restore his body.

Review: Well, this is something we haven’t seen in a while. Science fiction has gotten pretty polished lately, with grungy cyberpunk mostly left in the past. Not since The Matrix have we seen people plugging dodgy looking sockets into their skulls to jack into the internet virtual reality. These days we have the stylish, Apple product design turning up in media like Black Mirror. Upgrade brings with it a bit of retro-cyberpunk charm, drawing a parallel with 1995’s Johnny Mnemonic and Strange Days, right down to outlaw hackers squatting in derelict apartment blocks.

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The movie begins with Grey and wife Asha living an idyllic relationship where Asha embraces the advances in technology such as smart counters and self-driving cars and Grey believes people should be willing to get their hands dirty. He restores classic muscle cars for niche clients, including isolated and oddball tech genius Eron Keen (subtle). When the couple are attacked after a car accident Asha is left for dead and Grey a quadriplegic. Unhappy with his life Grey allows Keen to install a new super computer chip into his spine to give him the freedom of movement once more.

Grey soon finds that he’s no longer alone in his own body – the technology, calling itself STEM, can speak with him and even take control of Grey’s body if given permission. Using this new abilities and insight Grey is able to hunt down his wife’s murders and exact revenge of them. As time goes on and he gets deeper into his mission Grey begins to question how much he is in control and how much STEM has taken over.

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The concept of cybernetic technologies challenging what it means to be human, the idea of becoming ‘better’ than human and what the cost to our individuality will be, is not a new one in this sub-genre. Part of the novelty is that we haven’t seen in it in a movie for quite some time. It’s a good realisation of the near future with current design trends being applied to self-driving cars and household items. It’s cool seeing an idea of what we could be using ourselves within a few years.

Another high point of the movie is the surprisingly violent action scenes. The action is faced paced and tightly choreographed and features some unusual camera moves. In order to match the action the camera makes short tilts sideways. It’s different but quite effective. Whannell is no stranger to horrific gore, being one of the brains behind the Saw franchise, but it often comes out of left field in Upgrade and takes the audience by surprise. It certainly fits in the mechanical nature of a computer controlled body.

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Whilst this is a very good film it’s not great. There’s many questions left not only unanswered but entirely unexplored and while the world building is interesting there’s much more we’d like to see of it. There’s a sequences involving people who spend days at a time locked into VR headsets, using IV drips for sustenance, but we never see what they’re actually doing in VR so there’s no visual to go with it. Ultimately though it’s a satisfying techno-thriller that is certainly worth your time.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN

 

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