While at SXSW, I overheard several people discussing a film called Upgrade (2018), but I wasn’t able to squeeze it in. It surprised me to see it listed at my local theater, as we don’t often get smaller indie films like this – especially if they’re rated R. I’d heard minimal information about the story, but I’d heard positive things overall about the film. Despite starting a little slow and feeling a bit cheesy, Upgrade ultimately won me over, and I had a great time with it.
Upgrade has summer action movie written all over it
Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is an old-school guy who prefers keeping himself distant from technology in a world that is ultimately run by it. After an attack that kills his wife and leaves him paralyzed from the neck down, he puts aside his fear of technology to have an experimental computer chip, called “Stem”, implanted in his spine in order to seek revenge on those who took everything from him.
Marshall-Green gives an incredible performance in this film. He is tasked with some challenging action sequences that must have been awkward to film, but explaining why could essentially be a spoiler. There are numerous close quarter combat sequences in the film, and he has to be in the scene to deliver on the opportunity for some very witty banter that he absolutely nails. The violence in the film is extreme at times, but there is a callback to old action movies with the humor that accompanies some of these intense moments. However, the humor feels very natural, despite the absurdity of the moments and how they come to be.
The cinematography by Stefan Duscio and choices by director Leigh Whannell are innovative and fit to the story very well. During the fight sequences, you get these very robotic camera movements that feel so at home in the world crafted by the story. Characters in the film have various biomechanical implants, including Grey’s new chip. The visuals are often very strong, allowing you to see the action while also feeling a little disoriented in a way that makes sense with regard to Grey’s perspective.
Many aspects of the story are generic, as it is a revenge story that ultimately brings the idea of fridging back into the conversation. Grey’s wife, Asha Trace (Melanie Vallejo), is introduced and almost instantly killed in order to set the plot in motion. However, by the time the film concludes, the story was extremely satisfying, and it took a few liberties with the clichés of the genre. There are a few storylines that aren’t bad but suffer from feeling superfluous. For example, Detective Cortez (Betty Gabriel) is the cop who assures the survivor that the police are doing everything they can in order to catch the bad guys, but that is never satisfactory to our anti-hero, who chooses to take matters into his own hands. The cop eventually begins to suspect that the anti-hero has resorted to vigilantism, and a conflict is inevitable. While Gabriel performs well in the role, it does feel tacked on at moments, and it could have been developed a bit more. Still, it doesn’t take anything away from the film but is simply an example of some of the rough spots.
Upgrade is definitely a film that any action movie lover should check out. There are horror aspects present, and the themes the film tackles are definitely relevant. Of course, they do hit all the genre tropes – but it is executed in a way that feels original and satisfying by the end. Upgrade earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating and is one enjoyable film.