A throwback revenge thriller set in a dystopian future. Upgrade – movie review

I was pleasantly surprised when I first heard that Blumhouse Production was set to make and release their first Sci-fi movie. Thus, I went into Upgrade – which didn’t premiere in Italy, so I had to wait for the DVD to come out in order to watch the film – with high expectations, considering that both critics and audiences loved it.

Sometimes highly anticipating a film can make you appreciate it less when it doesn’t fully meet your expectations. Fortunately, though, Upgraded was everything I wanted to see and even more.

The movie centres around Grey Trace (Logan Marshal-Green from Prometheus), who lives in a near-future where technology controls nearly all aspects of life. He’s a self-defined technophobe, though, which makes him despise a few cool-looking, self-facilitating devices but he also hates the body-modification technology, which allows dodgy people to transform into geared up killing machines.

However, when technology betrays him and his wife Asha (played by former Power Ranger Melanie Vallejo), she gets killed by a group of people for apparently no reason and Grey is left paralysed from his neck down. Naturally, he wants revenge and he’s conveniently approached by a shady guy who offers to implant in him an experimental computer chip called Stem, which will allow Grey not to just walk but… basically to turn into a killing machine!

Continue reading and check my final grade below…

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Upgrade 1.jpgThe director of this movie is Leigh Whannell, co-writer of Saw (2004), who also wrote and directed some shitty horror flicks in the past. Well, I have to say that Upgrade is definitely his best movie after Saw! While we’re at it, I should also apologise to Logan Marshal-Green, a guy I always dismissed as a bad actor, but who really shines here and steals the show.

Upgrade is, in fact, a movie centred on a single character and Marshal-Green portrays him wonderfully: his performance is intense, badass, funny (oh yes, this flick has a surprising amount of levity to it) and emotional. Kudos to you, sir.

Besides this standout performance, Upgrade works as a violent kind of noir thriller where we follow Grey seeking revenge in a highly satisfying way. Did I say violent? Yes, this film is extremely brutal. The gore effects, which are fantastic, are in your face and over-the-top: some of the killings reminded me of those amazing South Korean revenge movies like Old Boy (2003) and I Saw the Devil (2010).

Upgrade 3.jpgSpeaking of the killings, in Upgrade everything is on screen, in its full glory. There is no shaky-cam to be found and the direction by Whannell is spotless. The action scenes are extremely stylised, in a way that makes them all the more compelling and unique, with the steady-camera waving around smoothly. It’s worth noting that the actors in this flick did their own stunts, which gives the fight sequences (also through some clever editing) a genuine feeling.

Yet, another aspect that’s worth mentioning is that Upgrade has a long runtime (almost two hours) but it never turns into a gore fest. Much like an Asian action flick, this film takes its time to introduce Grey’s character, therefore when something bad happens to him the audience roots for him more and, when the revenge part starts, the impact is more powerful.

Benefitting from a quite high budget (in comparison to all the other Blumhouse flicks), Upgrade builds up a fictional and futuristic world that’s grounded in reality all the same. Again, the atmosphere is dreary and matches the mood of the film, despite the fantastically glowy lighting in specific locations.

To me, Upgraded proves that it’s possible to make a really good movie without venturing into uncharted territories. Here, story and setting and characters are simple but the movie is effective nonetheless due to directing and acting.

Sure, there are aspects in the movie that held it back from being unforgettable. Namely, the fact that the action scenes are played to look cool, they don’t have the grittiness and grimness of the aforementioned South Korean films. In other words, they make you go “that was awesome!” as opposed to triggering a reaction like “damn, that was really hard to watch”. This is not a negative per se, I just think that a more sombre approach would have fitted the tone more appropriately.

Also, the ending – which I liked – featured a “reveal” (so to speak) that was put in there just for shock value, without adding to nor improving upon the story whatsoever. Nonetheless, the sense of dread and desperation at the very end is something I highly appreciated and couldn’t have anticipated in a Blumhouse movie.

Finally, and besides Logan Marshal-Green’s performance, the acting isn’t the greatest: many performances felt formulaic and conventional. The ‘bad guys’ in particular looked a bit like cartoon characters, with their line delivery and facial expressions.

All in all, though, Upgrade is one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen the whole year. Due to the graphic violence, it might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I would recommend it to whomever looks for a gruesome yet highly enjoyable rollercoaster of a ride.

Upgrade                                 8/10