Upgrade review: Leigh Whannell moves into the science-fiction realm with this blistering revenge thriller.
Upgrade review by Kat Hughes.
Leigh Whannell had been working in Hollywood for over a decade. He burst onto the scene with James Wan as the writer and star of Saw. Since then Whannell has stayed primarily within the horror genre, creating the Insidious franchise, which again he starred in. The series also saw him take to life behind the camera for once, with him directing Insidious 3. His second directorial work, Upgrade, sees him move away from the horror security blanket and into the gritty world of the revenge thriller.
Upgrade isn’t any old revenge thriller though, it also has a science-fiction edge. Set in a not so distant future, Upgrade stars Logan Marshall-Green as Grey, a young technophobe who hasn’t quite adjusted to the future. This all changes after he is attacked, leaving his wife dead, and him a quadriplegic. Upon his return from hospital, he is approached by a tech wizard who has been working on a prototype chip called STEM, one that should, in theory, give him the ability to walk again. STEM does much more than that though, and Grey finds himself on a vigilante mission to avenge his wife’s death.
As revenge films go, Upgrade is up there with the best of them. What typically makes such films great, is the quality of the fight sequences, and Upgrade has some of the best we’ve ever seen. STEM links Grey’s nervous system together, but it is STEM that controls it (with Grey’s permission), meaning that there’s a robotic gait to Grey’s motions. It also means that he’s super fast. The first fight sequence, which can be glimpsed in the trailer, is jaw-droppingly stunning. I genuinely had to pick my jaw up off of the floor, the choreography is just breath-taking, and easily rivals the likes of John Wick (which coming from this Wick fangirl, is very high praise indeed). In fact, much like John Wick, Upgrade feels like a graphic novel brought to life.
It’s not just the physicality of the fight sequences, Logan Marshall-Green brings that same physicality of his movements to the full film. Post STEM implant, Grey moves in a much more considered way. It would be so easy to be ‘poof – magic chip he can walk and do stuff exactly the same again’, but by having Marshall-Green make this decision and keep it up, it makes Upgrade that much more believable. There’s the typical Whannell humour slipped in as well. The aforementioned fight scene is sure to get plenty of laughs, and Marshall-Green shows great comedic timing with these lines. Logan Marshall-Green has never been better than he is here, and as a long time fan, I hope this is just the beginning of something big for him as he definitely deserves it.
The tech side of the film is also tangibly believable. Self-driving cars are already in motion, and the other bits and pieces of tech on display – autonomous houses etc. – aren’t so far out of the realm of plausibility. Even the computers within the film aren’t radically far-fetched. It also isn’t all about the mod-con tech, Grey himself hates most technology and spends his days repairing muscle cars for private collectors. He’s essentially a dinosaur existing in the modern world. In that respect, Upgrade is very similar to something like Looper.
Another ace up Whannell’s sleeve is that he never shies away from the violence or gore. Upgrade at it’s heart is an old-school eighties action flick. Think the likes of The Running Man and you’ll get what I mean. Given Whannell’s history in the genre, and that he’s one of the minds that birthed Saw, the gore factor shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, but all too often this is watered down in this type of movie. Here though the blood flows freely, but never in a gratuitous and unnecessary manner. On an unrelated note, Whannell also manages to sneak in a little Billy the Puppet cameo, rewarding fans of his previous work.
Upgrade is a cinematic new direction for Whannell, but one that he instantly excels in. With Upgrade he proves that he can handle more than just horror. An exhilarating upgrade to the sci-fi action- revenge-thriller story. Surely it’s the sleeper hit of the year, I for one cannot wait to see it again!
Upgrade review by Kat Hughes, August 2018.
Upgrade screened as part of Arrow Video Frightfest 2018. It opens in UK cinemas on Friday 31st August 2018.