Eye For Film >> Movies >> Upgrade (2018) Film Review
Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson
At some point in a near future a man called Grey fixes cars, and then after an attack needs fixed himself. In the same solid B-Movie revenge tradition as Mandy and the same solid B-Movie Faustian bargain tradition as Venom is Upgrade. In its not-quite-certain-when which is some distance from now but recognisably in reach there is a place that looks at once like a city in Australia trying not to be and what a future imagined by people who have seen The Matrix would and does look like. There is also a magic robot that lives in a computer chip, but we'll get to that.
This is a second feature as director for Leigh Whannel, who also writes - something audiences will be more familiar with as he's responsible for the earlier outings in the Saw family as well as the Insidious series. Though I've seen Insidious I can recall almost no details of it save that it sufficiently slid past my critical distance that I woke my partner with a fit of night terrors. I can't quite place what element of it roused the primate nestled in my subconscious to wake and hoot in fear but a subtler sinister shadow is also found in Upgrade.
Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) repairs old muscle cars, an analogue contrast to the self-guiding electroroamer his lawyer wife (Asha Trace, Melanie Vallejo) uses to get around. He delivers one to his latest client, Asha's client too, somewhat reclusive genius squillionaire Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson). Keen is a bit odd, the love child of Justin Bieber and Elon Musk, a fey wizard with a pet cloud and a magic house, one in which he keeps a chip called STEM.
I went with the expectation that I'd see some good old-fashioned cyberpunk-inflected kicky-punch and was not disappointed. There are good villains, Benedict Hardie's Fisk is demonstration that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. He can near enough kill with a word, but Dune is less a touch-stone for this than other works.
Early on I was reminded of a quote from a William Gibson novel and in that act of remembering effectively uncovered what was to be a later twist so shall spare you sight of it. Later I was minded to swear at the screen because it seems to play with such a basic and annoying trope of fantastic fiction that my primal urges were as quickly stirred as that nocturnal yelp. In the middle I was properly entertained.
There's a particular unity of camera and actor movement that's good enough that they use it in the trailer and more than once in the film and that trick of standing up is pretty neat. There's nothing especially new, but it's well executed - and that sense of fatality and a number of pretty visceral horror (and body horror) elements permeate.
It's not without issues - Asha's death is a motivating factor, and though there's a female detective (Betty Gabriel) investigating the attack (and subsequent revenges) there are bits of gender balance that still worry. There's a hacker whose railing against 'binary' conventions is perhaps as discomfiting as L3-37 asking for equal rights, and that's before we add the business of torture, of outsourcing violence, of Turing tests and devilish details.
Upgrade isn't for everyone - if nothing else it's basically just an enhanced version of an older story - but as revenge sagas go it's smooth-running, well-constructed, and pulls a lot of options out of a few simple choices. If you're at all inclined, don't skip it.Reviewed on: 25 Oct 2018
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