Upgrade is a knockout blend of sci-fi, horror, and action. A seemingly simple premise leads to an intriguing foray into the evolution of man and the use of artificial intelligence. It's a heady turn in the bloodbath. Upgrade is spectacularly violent, but not torture porn. There's a method to the brutality. The world depicted is not that far away. I wish the mystery element were more refined. A minor drawback, but it prevents Upgrade from reaching loftier heights.
Upgrade takes place in the near future. Logan Marshall-Green stars as Grey Trace, an old-fashioned grease monkey surrounded by advanced technology. He spurns high tech, but his beautiful wife (Melanie Vallejo) embraces it. She has a self-driving car and 3D prints dinner, instead of old-fashioned cooking. Their home is a wonder of automation.
Grey's life changes dramatically after delivering a muscle car to a reclusive inventor (Harrison Gilbertson). A savage attack destroys his idyllic world, leaving him paralyzed and bitter. He watches helplessly as the lead detective (Betty Gabriel) struggles to find answers. Grey gets a top secret chance to be healed. A cutting edge processor, STEM, can bridge the divide between his mind and body. The results are miraculous, but with an unexpected side effect. STEM gives Grey the ability to move his body with mechanical precision. He has been upgraded as a human. Grey enters this new frontier with one objective, revenge.
Upgrade can be analyzed on multiple levels. As a science fiction film, it is extraordinary. The future is both wondrous and frightening. Automated homes, cars, police drones, technology is helpful and efficient. It's even more amazing when the medical possibilities are explored. But this is when the lines blur into something dark and sinister. Grey's use of STEM, and the similarly upgraded villains he faces, portray the horrific potential. A gun imbedded in your arm is far deadlier. Close your eyes as your body exacts machine-like murder. At what point does humanity give up control to artificial intelligence? The scenario is all too real.
Upgrade has hardcore, ass-kicking action scenes. They are brilliantly shot by Whannell and cinematographer, Stefan Duscio. Grey's movements, when using STEM, are clearly puppet-like. They succeed in showing what a machine can do in control of the human body. To be clear, this isn't Terminator or cyborgs run amuck. Grey's upgrade is entirely believable in context of this story. Whannell's script posits a realistic future. All present signs point to these advancements being achieved. Upgrade is a warning about the consequences. Repairing paralysis will be welcomed. But that level of biological manipulation can spurn horrific outcomes.
A mystery lies at the center of Grey's attack. The character, with the help of STEM, seeks the truth mercilessly. The big reveal is expected. The clues are dropped like lead weights. It's not entirely obvious, but I was able to deduce where the plot was going quickly. Upgrade flies by with a ninety-five runtime. The film will keep you glued to the screen. Whannell had leeway to bulk up the story elements. Another ten minutes of exposition would have added dramatic heft. I understand the reasoning. Upgrade is produced by Jason Blum and Neon under the BH Tilt banner. Blum is the king of micro-budget horror. He aims for short and sweet. Upgrade fits that mold, but could have surpassed it. The plot, execution, and tremendous entertainment value warranted more screen time.
Upgrade is a must see. It straddles several genres successfully. The violence isn't for the squeamish, but does fit the story. Upgrade delves into the philosophical conundrum of artificial intelligence. It shows how unchecked technology advances with dangerous intent. Leigh Whannell delivers his best film since Saw.