It’s common for low-budget films to feel compromised as a result of their financial limitations, but Upgrade uses a mix of sharp cinematography, good writing, and conceptual cleverness to make you forget it was shot in Melbourne on the cheap.
Upgrade tells the story of Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green), a mechanic whose wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) is killed in a seemingly planned hit and whose resulting neck injury leaves him paralysed. The detective assigned to the case (Betty Gabriel) is unable to progress with her investigation, and Trace sinks into despair. He’s given hope when one of his clients, a reclusive technologist called Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) offers him a cybernetic implant that will allow him to walk. The implant does far more than that, though, and the film becomes an ultra-violent thriller as he hunts down his wife’s murderers and avoids the law.
In terms of story, this film isn’t doing anything particularly new, and to make a comparison to a certain other film about artificial intelligence would be to spoil Upgrade‘s twists and turns. However, the themes of the film are cleverly conveyed by keeping you invested in Trace’s story, and revealing things to you the way they’re revealed to him. Marshall-Green‘s performance is also very good, and he expresses the roller-coaster of emotions he’s subject to as the story unfolds.
Where it shines is how much fun it has with its thumping action scenes and how its writing keeps you guessing throughout its length. It’s well paced, and quite beautifully shot, with good use of locations, sets and colour that really immerse you in its noirish near-future world. There’s a hint of Cronenberg in it, with some well-executed body-horror as Trace’s body is subject to all sorts of indignities, violence and torture. It’s also blackly funny, with some moments of genuine comedy that keep things engaging and human.
Should you watch it? Yes! This is a clever, fun movie that delivers on every level it’s trying to. The Blu-ray also features a great transfer and sound that will wallop your speakers and rattle your windows, as well as an interview with director Leigh Whannell and a fun feature called ‘Grey Trace vs’.