Director: Leigh Whannell
Script: Leigh Whannell
Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson, Melanie Vallejo, Benedict Hardie, Linda Cropper, Simon Maiden
Running time: 100 minutes
Leigh Whannell wrote and directed Upgrade as a bit of a change from the horror franchises he’d been cooking up for Blumhouse Productions previously, franchises such as Saw and Insidious. While Upgrade is still a Blumhouse production, of sorts, it was filmed in Melbourne, Australia, and has quite a different vibe to it; it being a sci-fi/action flick set in the near future with no sign of ghosts or eccentrically built torture chairs!
Grey Trace (played very well by Logan Marshall-Green) is an old school car mechanic and quite the opposite to his lovely wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo), who works for a high-tech company and is very pro-technology, unlike her technophobe husband. He takes her with him when he heads over to deliver an old muscle car that he’s done up for an eccentric inventor, and, on their way home, in her high-tech driverless car, the car is hacked and forces them into a dodgy gang-infested area of the city, where they come to blows with what initially appears to be just another street gang, albeit one that is very well-armed, in more ways than one.
Grey’s wife is shot dead in front of him and he’s left paralysed from the neck down by the encounter. The hospital and his mum get his body as good as it can ever be again, but his mind is broken and he attempts to commit suicide in quite a disturbing and sad scene. While convalescing in hospital again, Grey is visited by the billionaire inventor who offers to help him by inserting an AI implant into his spine, which will enable him to have some quality of life back. Grey reluctantly accepts and soon realises that the implant can not only enable him to operate as a normal human being again, but it can also help him to solve the murder of his wife. All good on paper, but it soon becomes apparent that the Faustian pact that he has with his on-board computer chip, STEM, might just lead to his own un-doing…
Upgrade manages to shoehorn a lot of clever ideas, and also posit many interesting questions about the future, within its relatively short running time. According to the director there was a lot of compromise when it came to shooting his original vision, due to money constraints, but Whannell has still done an excellent job here of at least giving us a flavour of his weird cyberpunk future world, inhabited by trained killers with guns implanted into their arms and artificial intelligence that can transform a paraplegic into a fully-functioning member of society.
The film has also developed its own kind of fighting style pitting artificially-enhanced killers against each other, performing their own, strangely captivating, robotic martial art, courtesy of fight choreographer Chris Weir (Romper Stomper, Glitch TV series).
Considering its relatively small budget the production design on Upgrade is very good and there’s a few quite interesting locations. The lighting is very mood-enhancing and atmospheric, and Jed Palmen’s synth-heavy score works well to underpin the near-future visuals.
Overall Upgrade is a worthwhile addition to the Black Mirror, be-careful-what-you-wish-for style of science fiction that’s currently very popular.
Second Sight is distributing Upgrade on Blu-Ray with a 18th November release date. As per usual, Second Sight has provided some decent special features including:
- Audio commentary with director Leigh Whannell;
- Not Action, Not Sci-fi. More (30 mins) – An interview with the director who comes across like a proper film fan and explains his motivations for doing the film and what his influences are – mostly film noir, martial arts films and David Cronenberg’s body horror movies. He also reveals that the bar in the film was one he had used in a short student film some years earlier, and that the impressive-looking future car was actually a Honda Accord, but just with a new skin!
- Permission Granted (14 mins) – An interview with producer Kylie Du Fresne who explains that the film was independently financed and was mostly shot in the Docklands area of Melbourne.
- Future Noir (14 mins) – An interview with cinematographer Stefan Duscio where explains his ideas and praises the lead actor for his hard work, particularly on the stunt work.
- Hacking Upgrade (8.5 mins) – An interview with editor, Andy Canny, who’d first met the director on his earlier film, The Mule. He reveals that in editing he’d only cut out parts of scenes and not whole scenes for the final film.
- The Art of Fighting Without Fighting (8 mins) – An interview with fight choreographer Chris Weir, who explains that they only had a week to design the fights and that actor Logan managed to do 95% of the fighting himself.
- 40 page book with new essays by Jon Towlson and Scott Harrison.