Upgrade Review TechRunAmuck Revenge Thriller Is NearPerfect Pulp

There are good modern B movies – those films that still borrow the old termite-art terminology of back-half programming, because what does double feature even mean anymore, but have kept the phrase s shorthand description for guttery, grungy giddiness alive – and then there s Upgrade. There are sublimely ridiculous Robocop rip-offs and bottom-shelf Black Mirror outtakes, and then there s Upgrade. There are sci-fi parables that know how to meld tech-paranoia with body horror, and then there s Upgrade. There are films whose performances run the gamut from unbelievably charismatic to Unclean! Unclean! , and then there s Upgrade. There are pulp pleasures that make trekking out to a theater completely worthwhile, and then there s Upgrade. Leigh Whannell s hi-fi, lowbrow gem from the House of Blum is exactly the sort of sick, satisfying Grand Guignol genre flick you want smuggled in among the big-ticket summer blockbusters right now. That title works on two levels. Specifically, however, it refers to what happens to Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) – that name alone! – after he s suffered a major tragedy and a debilitating post-trauma injury. He s an analog man in a futuristic digital world, the kind of guy who restores old muscle cars and sells them to Internet billionaires like Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), a clammy, bottle-blond amalgamation of Mark Zuckerberg s social awkwardness and Julian Assange s dead-eyed creepiness. It s after our hero sells the young moneymaker a Firebird that the smart car belonging to Trace s wife (Melanie Vallejo) is cyberjacked and crashed. Out of nowhere, thugs show up. One of them shoots the woman with a handgun – like, an actual gun that has been transplanted into his palm, because again, the future. He also puts a bullet in Grey, leaving him a widower and a quadriplegic. Months later, Trace is tooling around his house in an electronic wheelchair, feeling like justice will never be served no matter how long Detective Cortez (Get Out s Betty Gabriel) reviews surveillance-drone footage of the attack. Then Eron shows up, touting a tiny microchip-ish whatsit he calls Stem – a new, better brain – and an offer to install this innovation into the base of Trace s neck. That s where the upgrade part comes in: This device allows him to move his arms and legs again. It also, we soon find out, has a voice, all the better to point out pertinent details in crime-scene footage and whisper suggestions to its new owner about snooping around possible suspects homes. When one such visit goes south, Stem tells his human host: I need your permission to operate independently. Permission is granted. And that s when both Trace and viewers discover that Stem has an attack mode. It s that first fight scene, in which Trace s body is turned into a herky-jerky weapon of UFC-level destruction and cinematographer Stefan Duscio films in a dementedly dizzying manner and a kitchen knife is put to creative use on someone s face, that this nasty, brutish movie truly levels up. From there, we are whisked through a whirlwind of set pieces with aesthetics best described as use more black light! and blessed with copious amounts of violence, mayhem, a cast of extras that might have been culled from either local dojos or soup kitchens, some wonky techsplaining and an ingenious sense of sadism and fun. It s also where you first see the benefit of having Marshall-Green, an actor who looks like an off-brand Tom Hardy, in an action-hero role that requires both a salt-of-the-earth relatability and a silent-comedian s physical grace – two things he proves he has in spades and that play a major part in how well this revenge-thriller-with-benefits works. The man is a rough-and-tumble find. (Someone pair him and The Purge films bruiser Frank Grillo in a movie stat.) And it pays to remember that Whannell is the writer-director who penned the screenplay for the Saw and Insidious movies (he also helmed the latter franchise s third entry), and knows how to craft horror movies that treat both dread and gore as a currency. By the time Upgrade goes off the rails – and it does indeed unravel in a batshit-spectacular fashion – you still feel like his Siri-goes-psychotic tale has earned its place at the head of the contemporary genre table. This is not Citizen Kane. It s not even the Citizen Kane of boneheaded crazy-A.I.-meets-vengeance-is-mine movies. But it is so completely itch-scratching, so Dopamine-rush delirious in how works its primal-cinema magic that you find yourself embracing every warts-and-all WTF moment of this techsploitation nightmare along with the highlights. Resistance is futile. High-grade grindhouse glee is your reward. 6 days ago