Written and directed by The Invisible Man’s Leigh Whannell, and recently announced that it will be followed up with a TV series from Blumhouse. Set in the near-future, technology controls nearly all aspects of life but when the world of Grey, a self-labelled technophobe, is turned upside down, his only hope for revenge is an experimental computer chip implant. Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Melanie Vallejo, Harrison Gilbertson, Betty Gabriel, Benedict Hardie, Simon Maiden, Linda Cropper and Christopher Kirby.
One of the ways that you can immediately tell this film is going to set itself apart from the crowd, is the unusual choice to have the A.I. voice which controls the characters’ house and car to announce the opening credits and the film’s production houses. It stands out as something that’s never particularly done, we’re given their logos and that’s that but here, it’s integrated into the film, strange and ominous but certainly increases your curiosity. Setting itself apart was something vital to this film, there are a ridiculous number of films where men get revenge on the people that killed their wife so by introducing the futuristic and technological aspects, it gives that old story a fresh perspective. The way that the film integrates these futuristic elements is refreshing to see, instead of trying to make an entire overhaul of cities, such is the norm, it keeps the general look of the location while adding plenty of touches to separate itself from current day. It’s not necessarily understated in a larger sense but it’s a more natural, smooth way of presenting the setting so that viewers still recognise and can relate to the environment.
That sleek and stylish visual is paired perfectly with the instinctive direction, it’s solid right off the bat but it really comes into its own when Grey’s new friend Stem kicks in. The camera movement then advances into a style that so closely follows the movements of our lead that it’s inherently satisfying to watch, it’s fast paced and the sort of direction that you always want from action sequences but so rarely get. You’ll certainly be drawn into the story by that point but nevertheless it pulls you in further, the choreography is fantastic but adding that movement to the direction gives it an extra edge of power, emphasises his new found agility in a way that’s powerful. A lot of it does depend on that choreography but the two are blended so well it’s a delight to watch. It really pushes on the sympathy of the moment, that style lets you in to the characters experience of this strange new ability, the speed of the shot reflecting his movements, gives you almost a similar experience to what the character would have. It then goes one step further by not minimising its violence but also not diving into gratuitous territory, it waits until the right moment then throws a splash of gore at you, to keep the audience wary of the Stem’s efficiency.
Outside of those elements, the next chunk of the film rests on the shoulders of Logan Marshall-Green, an actor who’s never had a ‘breakout’ role, so to speak but he’s done very consistent work in his 17-year career to date. His performance is terrific in this film, not only does he handle the emotional side of things extremely well, he’s on top form when he alters his posture and body language to reflect whether Grey or Stem is in control, it’s only slight changes but it’s very visible and incredibly effective. This role shows that he’s been entirely underestimated to this point, his next project being a 40’s set police drama, co-starring Taylor Kitsch, it seems that Hollywood may have picked embraced the film but not quite the actor just yet, hopefully that will change with time. He also has a very strong supporting cast, particularly Gilbertson and Gabriel, the latter you may recognise from her iconic role as Georgina, the maid in Get Out but throughout there isn’t an outlier or weak performance to be found.
You could say that the writing is a little bit predictable but it’s inconsequential because rarely do you come across a film tackling the danger of A.I. that presents genuinely coherent, strong and compelling storytelling. Too often are stories of the same vein treated with a laziness and misguided focus, providing action but no real story or too much story that becomes convoluted so it’s a refreshing change of pace for Upgrade to be covering all the bases and providing a thrilling experience. It also has just the slightest edge of comedy which lets the film sit in its darkness, without becoming too gritty or overly violent. However, there are one or two scenes that went slightly too heavily on the editing, taking focus away from the action at hand which is frustrating, it’s wasteful to have so much choreography and stunts go into a scene, only to miss half of it because of the edits.
Upgrade is a story that has a lot of different elements but never strays its focus too far from the central focus, Grey’s sorrow, grief and anger. The direction, cinematography and stunts are spectacular, the way both its lead and the camera move in unison works beyond what you might expect to create almost a new viewing experience. Violence is used in a way which grounds the story, it’s not about shock value, it’s exposing the dangers in the story in a way that knocks you back in emphasis. It’s incredibly stylish, electrifying and succeeds so well in a genre where many others have failed. Whannell is a director on the rise after the success of The Invisible Man and if these two films are anything to go by, he’s got a stellar career ahead of him.