3 out of 5
Directed by: Leigh Whannell
From the first gory kill in Upgrade, with director / writer Leigh Whannell’s camera whipping about fluidly, amping up the scene’s intensity, assuming you were expecting a bit of horror from the Saw co-creator, you’re sold: the film rockets up into the bloody FX stratosphere with the likes of something like Laid To Rest. Actor Logan Marshall-Green is game and presents his role with the right doses of cheek and drama to allow the tone to shift when needed, and the near-future setting of the tech-influenced world is, as defined by Whannell, made close enough within reach of what’s currently available in the world that believability isn’t stretched too far, and the budget can be spent on staging on stunts instead of dressing things up with too much CG.
The film never quite meets the intensity of that scene thereafter, unfortunately, nor does it do much with its set up that you’re not expecting. Still, it’s quick, to the point, and delivers enough bloody hijinks and car chases and slickly shot fights to keep a viewer from ever turning away in boredom, even though you can call out the plot beats along the way.
Logan plays ‘Grey Trace,’ another in a long line of movie names we’ll never see in real life, who’s living an analog lifestyle, fixing up old cars, while his wife (Melanie Vallejo) makes the moneys working in the booming tech industry. Whilst they’re out and about in a self-driving car, the vehicle’s system goes haywire, there’s an accident, and Grey is left quadriplegic and his wife left dead. But here comes a patron saint to Grey, offering him a surgically implanted, computer chip “upgrade” that will let him walk again. And, it turns out, will also let him track down some people in need (in plotty arrangements) of revengement.
The film finds humor in playing off of Grey’s need to maintain the ruse that he’s paralyzed, with some body horror elements dribbled about and an undertone of seriousness prevailing as he gives in more deeply to his pursuits. Cinematographer Stefan Duscio casts the whole things in blacks and blues and reds but its not washed out; the visuals are smartly kept grounded with some beautiful shadows, playing off that age-old theme of humanity versus technology. A similarly subtle but pulsing score by Jed Palmer paces everything with a heartbeat beat.
So it’s a well-made, if ultimately generic package, erring toward big picture-esque thrills when it could’ve gone (maybe more satisfyingly) toward the B-movie blowup of that first kill. Either way, Upgrade kept me watching without coercion, and though I could’ve asked for something a little different, I couldn’t really have asked for something more.