It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when it happened but the tech giants have made us slaves to their wares – hard and soft. With such regular updates on both fronts, consumers are almost programmed into requiring the latest model of this or that, in order to survive the day.
Leigh Whannell takes this notion of tech-hungry consumerism to the next level, by being able to update on a biological level. In other words, us humans.
Despite living in a high tech world, Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) still very much enjoys keeping it low tech. Although his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) works for a tech company, Grey works as a mechanic, working on classic cars at their home.
After dragging her out with him to drop off a car he had been working on for wealthy client Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) - who just so happens to be a tech genius, the pair run into difficulties with their automated vehicle on the way home; it breaks down in an unsavoury area, where they find themselves being attacked.
Although Grey survives – barely - ending up as he does, paralysed from the neck down, his wife is less fortunate.
After learning what happened, Eron visits him and informs him that he has developed technology that could enable Grey to walk again. Grey agrees to be his guinea pig and soon finds himself on the operating table being implanted with a single chip that will make him able bodied once again.
What Grey isn’t aware of though, is that the chip, going by the name STEM (Simon Maiden), can do far more than that, giving him the kind of abilities that he could only ever dream of. The kind of abilities that could help him track down those that destroyed his life.
It’s all too easy to describe Whannell’s film, which he wrote and directed, as some kind of update on seventies TV show The Six Million Dollar Man. Strangely enough, it’s actually more reminiscent of Steve Martin’s 1983 comedy The Man with Two Brains; instead of being given a human brain however, Upgrade’s protagonist is given a super-computer, who could easily be related to HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. And although the genres are polar opposite, the theme is exactly the same: a man who is no longer in control of his own body.
Whannell seems to have enjoyed stepping away from his computer, slaving away as he has been over the years, scribing the many Saw and Insidious films, to get behind the camera for only his second time with his self-penned script.
It’s not just the story that has a retro feel about it, with both his art direction and use of lighting seemingly paying homage to the sci-fi films of the seventies, finished off as it is with a B-movie sheen.
All of these elements make it extremely pleasing to look at. His script is entertaining too, with many humorous moments to be had, by way of witty dialogue and cute action sequences.
Another whiff of its retro credentials also come from the relationship between Grey and STEM; at times you half expect STEM to be talking to Grey in a Pontiac Firebird and inadvertently calling him Michael. And yes, that is the theme tune to Knight Rider in your head right now, you’re welcome.
The only area where Whannell disappoints is in the predictability of his story; you don’t need to have an upgraded brain to work out exactly how this is all going to turn out.
Still, it shouldn’t take anything away from Whannell channelling something worthwhile, other than spinny bladey things and so-called spookiness, which can only be a good thing.
It would come as no surprise if PrimeFlix Plus haven’t already approached him about streaming a series, as the premise would be a perfect fit.
In the meantime, download Upgrade to your nuero cranial path way and enjoy.