August was awash with tech-based thrillers: a standalone sequel to Unfriended (Dark Web), a tedious horror about a popular Internet meme (Slender Man), and a Skype-set detective thriller about a father using his missing daughter’s laptop to find her (Searching). And now, Saw and Insidious writer Leigh Whannell concludes the month with his sci-fi revenge-thriller Upgrade – a cool plunge into a near-future world with driverless cars and humans injected with the latest technologies.
As is the case with Upgrade’s technophobic action-hero Grey (Logan Marshall-Green, looking like a Tom Hardy replicant), who fixes up old cars for rich people. When his wife’s driverless car is hacked and re-routed, a band of muggers kill her and leave Grey as a quadriplegic. One of the protagonist’s wealthy customers, the head of Vessel Computers Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson, dressed up like David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth) offers him the chance to walk again with a newly developed technology: STEM. But Grey discovers he can do more with STEM than just move around – he can find those responsible for his wife’s murder.
Despite an obvious premise with a few genres clashing together and a B-movie predictability, Upgrade is a lot of good, barely conscious fun. It’s like a crossover between Philip K Dick and Taken, which isn’t as interested by the impact of technology as much as what its attack style would be. The film excels in its action sequences, being both exciting and funny, and comes close to imitating an Edgar Wright style (pre-Baby Driver). Stefan Duscio’s visuals have a disorientating energy, shaking and shuddering and twirling with Grey as STEM controls his movements – playing out like a martial arts movie with cyborgs.
The transparent hints about the terrors of technology are nothing new, as STEM begins to develop a mind of its own and plays by its own rules. It’s fun to watch this develop, but it doesn’t lead to anywhere satisfying, ending with exhaustive twists and pessimistic messages that, though unexpected, feel irritating.
Although Upgrade leaves a few bugs unfixed, it’s an enjoyable revenge thriller with enough decently choreographed action to be left feeling thrilled. There’s a thirst for more, especially considering the violence, which, though graphic, is too pale for a Saw writer. But as sci fi-detective-martial arts-revenge-thrillers go, this is a good one.
Upgrade is released nationwide on 31st August 2018.
Watch the trailer for Upgrade here: