Siri, is that you?
Computerized voices, guns transplanted into people’s arms and blood. Lots and lots of blood. Upgrade has the look and feel of a summer blockbuster, while still disguising itself under the Blumhouse title.
All the better for it. The Blumhouse production company has made a name for itself by making films with a dirt cheap budget and then making ten times that much during the opening weekend. Sometimes that works out for the better — like Get Out or the Paranormal Activity movies (which I’m working my way through for the very first time right now) — and sometimes you get Ouija or Incarnate.
Anyone else out there remember Incarnate? Or was I the only one who sat through that awful, awful film.
Luckily, Upgrade is one of the good ones. It takes a step away from the horror genre, which Blumhouse typically finds comfort for in, which was a good move on their part. Turns out this company can also make a really good revenge flick.
Upgrade takes place sometime in the future. Not too far off, to the point where it becomes Star Trek or Wall-E. Rather, this world has more in common with something like Looper or Blade Runner 2049 — a place where the rich are the only ones who can afford self-driving cars and the poor are trying to pawn cheap, faulty implants.
This is where we find Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) — one of the few people left alive who has no love for technology. He’d much prefer to work with his hands, as he’s a mechanic who fixes old cars for wealthy people, rather than let a robot do his daily chores for him.
He’s also in love. Asha Trace (Melanie Vallejo) doesn’t share the same disdain for machinery that her husband does, as she works for a company that creates prosthetic limbs for army veterans.
If only they hadn’t gotten into the car together that one evening. While driving home one day, the Trace’s self-driving car takes an unexpected right turn and leads them out to the middle of nowhere.
A group of men with baggy sweatshirts and masks are waiting for them. The Traces are dragged out of their car, Asha is shot in cold blood and Grey is left for dead.
Except, as most revenge flicks go, he’s not actually dead. A rich billionaire named Eron (Harrison Gilbertson) gets ahold of him all Deadpool style and offers him a rare opportunity: he wants to place a computer chip inside Grey’s brain.
This computer chip, named STEM, will help repair all the brain tissue that was damaged in the set-up. STEM can take full control of Grey’s body when allowed and, even better, can actually talk to Grey (through inner sound waves, so no one else but Grey can hear it).
Grey agrees upon the realization that STEM can help him track down his wife’s killers and get his revenge. After all, a computer that can control his body to move like a ninja is a pretty powerful asset to have. Together, the two of them set off, leaving a bloody trail of corpses behind them.
If it sounds like a bunch of pretty standard revenge movie clichés, that’s because that is exactly what it is. Upgrade isn’t exactly breaking new ground in terms of substance, but that’s also part of its charm.
Part of the reason why Upgrade works so well is because it strictly limits itself to this revenge storyline. When I saw the trailer for Upgrade, I half expected the movie to end in a climax where he takes on an army of one hundred people singlehandedly. Luckily, it never comes to that. By limiting itself to the world that Upgrade creates, the whole ride is a lot sharper and more well-defined.
As is the whole world that Upgrade takes place in. The best parts of the movie are simply seeing all the gritty, sometimes gruesome, kind of mechanics that this world has to offer. It doesn’t necessarily look like a bright place to live, but it is a place that does feel lived in — meaning, this feels like a real world with real characters.
Logan Marshall-Green deserves all the credit in the world for portraying one of those characters, as I think this is about to be his breakout role. His job isn’t an easy one; his face has to be conveying one kind of emotion (usually terror or surprise) while his body is conveying a completely different one. He does it so well that you never once doubt the scenes in which STEM is in control for a second, as they provided some much-needed humor to Upgrade.
The film is directed by Leigh Whannell, who is determined not to approach Upgrade in a passive manner. Whannell’s directing is very in your face — with the camera angles, different kinds of shots and overall bloody feel to the whole thing — which elevate this to an even higher level. Any bad blood that Whannell got for Insidious: Chapter 3 is now completely forgiven.
Upgrade isn’t a groundbreaking film that’s about to cause a new wave in cinema, but it is a remarkably fresh movie that’s an absolute blast to watch. I love the world that it all takes place in, I love the approach Whannell brings to the whole thing and I LOVE the way that it ends. Without spoiling anything, it doesn’t seem like this necessarily has to be the last time we ever see Grey Trace on the big screen, so everyone go see Upgrade this weekend so we can get a proper sequel.
Watch the trailer for Upgrade here and let us know what you thought of the movie in the comments below!
'Upgrade' review: The sleeper hit of the summer you've been waiting for8