UPGRADE (October 19th)
YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...
One Director whose stock is on the rise is Leigh Whannell. The Australian film-maker made his breakthrough nearly 20 years ago with Saw and his collaboration with James Wan saw them work together on films such as Dead Silence as well as a couple of Insidious movies and Saw sequels. Whannell appears on screen in several of these films, however he is best known for writing (or co-writing) these films. And a very successful writer he has been too. However, in 2015 he was handed the keys to direct (and write) Insidious 3: The Last Key and he seized his opportunity – the film is the best of all four Insidious movies in my humble opinion. He's since gone on to make perhaps the best horror film of 2020 (although admittedly there wasn't a great deal of competition) – The Invisible Man. His successful reimagining of a cult classic has resulted in him being hired to direct reboots of both Escape from New York and The Wolfman. We're always a bit wary of remaking iconic films such as these but if anyone has a chance of making it work, it's probably Leigh Whannell. Between Insidious 3 and The Invisible Man, he directed another feature and it is this that I watched this evening. That film is called Upgrade.
Upgrade is set in the not too distant future and tells the story of a mechanic called Grey Trace (cool name) who after visiting a client with his wife, is attacked by four men. Grey's wife is killed and although Grey is shot in the neck, he survives but his injuries are so severe that he is paralysed from the neck down. He soon (understandably) sinks into a pit of depression and the fact the police seem a million miles way from catching the perps just adds to his misery. However after a failed suicide attempt, he is visited in hospital by an ultra rich tech guru called Eron Keen who convinces Grey to accept something called a STEM implant – which could allow him to walk again. However as it's a dangerous and illegal procedure, Grey has to sign an NDA which requires him to still pretend to be paralysed to everyone else. No biggie if the implant works right? And by Christ does it work. Within minutes of waking from the op he has regained the use of his body. As he watches drone footage of his wife's murder, looking for clues – a voice suddenly speaks to him. It's the implant. And it tells Grey that it can help him with his quest for revenge...
Ok, Ok. I'll admit, Upgrade is not an out an out horror movie. It was listed as a thriller on Netflix but Letterboxd and Rotten Tomatoes have 'horror' as one of the listed genres so I'm clinging to that. It's really a sci-fi action movie but hey, after last night's Stalker debacle I was just after something that I was pretty sure was going to be half decent – and to that end Upgrade didn't disappoint.
It's the blending of genres that actually makes it so watchable. I wasn't expecting it to be funny but there is some great light relief to be found in what is basically quite a violent movie. Quite often the comedy is wedged right in the middle of the goriest and grisliest scenes. The actual plot of Upgrade is not really anything particularly new or original but it's in the finer details that Whannell manages to elevate it being just another generic techno romp. Logan Marshall Green is very good in the lead role and something of an unlikely hero too. He's quite reluctant to actually commit any violence for much of the film and is more than happy to let his implant take control and do the dirty work, with some gruesome and hilarious results. The world of the near future that Whannell has created is also chillingly plausible. A world where technology dominates every aspect of life. It's also got a vibrant neon feel to it too, much like the sci-fi thrillers from the 80s that so many of us are fond of.
I was a little worried early on as the film seemed to set up the 'bad guy' a bit too obviously to begin with – especially for a film that was largely about a guy (and us) trying to figure out who was behind the death of his wife. Thankfully we get a couple of twists late on which turn things on their head a bit and an ending that left me a little startled. Upgrade has a sense of boldness and bravery to it that I really admired and it's quite relentless too. The budget isn't big but the ideas are and the grindhouse style and sheer energy of it all makes its flaws (which I'm not going to go into) more forgivable. It's not a game changer or revolutionary in what it does but it's a fun ride and cleared my memory of the film I had seen the night before (shudders).