Leigh Whannell‘s Upgrade is a high-octane depiction of futuristic violence and revenge. When polling attendees of the Overlook Film Festival, there were a small handful of films that made an appearance on most everyone’s must-see lists. Upgrade, of course, was always mentioned. Equal parts body horror and neo-noir, Upgrade is the story of a man seeking revenge for the death of his wife.
The film stars The Invitation‘s Logan Marshall-Green in a pysically demanding performance that would make Andy Serkis blush, and Blumhouse regular Betty Gabriel (Get Out, Unfriended: Dark Web) as our intuitive, resourceful detective.
Upgrade follows Grey Trace, a skilled mechanic that only a few decades and a lawn chair away from telling neighbourhood kids how simple life was back in his day. For Grey, the world has become too reliant on the convenience of technology, disregarding the human experience as a weakess or waste-of-time. He wants to work with his hands and remain in the driver seat, in control of his own life. In his eyes, there are no wasted minutes. Only time spend living life.
Grey scoffs at his wife’s self-driving car, settling for a more tactile experience in his every day. But after a horrific attack leaves him a widower and a quadriplegic, Grey is left to rely on his mother and a pair of robotic assistants to care for him. Crippled by the burden of this new existence, he wants nothing more than the ability to stand up from his chair, to walk the streets in search of answers the police can’t seem to find on their own.
“His body itself is a completely different character. […] he is locked inside himself, watching his body attack and mutilate another person. it’s horrific, it’s terrifying, and he can do nothing to stop it.”
His previous employer (an Elon Musk type with an interest in classic muscle cars) approaches Grey in his dark night of the soul with an offer. He explains that Grey will become the guinea pig for a new, experimental tech known as Stem. Sold to Grey as the bridge that will connect his body and brain once again, Stem is a device that will enhance every sense and ability Grey took for granted.
Having regained the use of his body, Grey sets out to find his wife’s killers and bring them to justice. Like a voice inside his head, Grey can communicate with Stem as though he were a partner along to observe and assist Grey’s investigation. Stem can also take control of Grey’s body (with permission) to protect Grey in dangerous situations. And of course, Grey is completely ill-equipped to defend himself when he finds that he’s been backed into to corner by skilled, homicidal criminals. Go-Go-Gadget-Stem
One of the most impressive aspects of Upgrade is Logan Marshall-Green’s performance as the “evolved” Grey. The execution of that character requires a degree of physicality that is almost the entirety of his performance. His body itself is a completely different character. When he first starts to use Stem, he is locked inside himself, watching his body attack and mutilate another person. it’s horrific, it’s terrifying, and he can do nothing to stop it.
He is an unwilling participant- a passenger along for a violent ride that he has no control over. As the complexity of his situation changes, so do his movements and mannerisms. In some scenes he looks like he’s being dragged against his will and in others he’s literally fighting himself as though he were two separate people wrestling for control.
“For a man so concerned with holding on to what it means to be human, it’s a punch in the gut to see that desire for revenge completely take him over.”
Despite continued danger, we dive deeper into a criminal underground that exposes a larger network of equally equipped mercenaries. But like all obsessively driven heroes, he begins to lose control of the man he once was. For a man so concerned with holding on to what it means to be human, it’s a punch in the gut to see that desire for revenge completely take him over. We see that the actions are effecting him, but his need for answers has him spiraling. That said, the movie is also hysterical. For its tone and its storytelling, Upgrade is one of the most gripping and mind-bending movies you will see all year. Scene after scene, you laugh, and gasp, and cheer with two fists in the air.
Upgrade is written and directed by Leigh Whannell and stars Logan Marshall-Green (The Invitation), Betty Gabriel (Get Out), Benedict Hardie (Hacksaw Ridge), and Simon Maiden ans the voice of Stem. Upgrade is a Blumhouse production and is currently scheduled for theatrical release June 1st, 2018.
We caught Upgrade at the 2018 Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana. Stick around Nightmare on Film Street for even more festival coverage, and check out our Twitter and Instagram pages for highlights from the event.