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Review: ‘Upgrade’ Channels ‘Black Mirror’ to Deliver a Low-Budget, High-Energy Splatterfest

June 29, 2018Ferdosa Abdi

Upgrade, Leigh Whannell's second feature, is a stylish and energetic low-budget action film that establishes him as one of the most exciting new action directors to emerge since Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, the directing team behind John Wick.

The story follows Grey Trace, played by Logan Marshall-Green, who will forever be haunted by the fact that his persona and acting style are eerily similar to Tom Hardy's. Grey and his wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo), who works for a company specializing in human-computer augmentations, live in a near-future city. But while Asha is fully integrated into this technologically advanced world, Grey is a skeptic who rejects society's reliance on technology, renouncing all of it for fear of losing his humanity. After a brutal accident, however, Grey becomes a widower and a quadriplegic, and finds himself at the mercy of technology.

Upgrade is very much a feature-length Black Mirror episode, complete with the show's bleak outlook on technology and the dangers of relying heavily on AI. Grey is a stand-in for everyone who has ever looked at the current state of technology and wondered when it will become too much, for when the police are unable to find the assailants who put him in the wheelchair and killed his wife, Grey is given a second chance with STEM, an AI chip that bridges the gap between brain and body. However, like the start of any good Black Mirror episode, the technology is a curse disguised as a blessing, as Grey now must battle his inner demons and his thirst for revenge, and fight for his humanity.

Essentially, Grey is the equivalent of the voice in our heads that is semi-joking about the impending technological revolution. Despite the Black Mirror similarities, Upgrade is most definitely a theatrical experience one must have. The movie is a fantastic revenge-action flick, with incredible acting from Marshall-Green. He is able to convincingly play a man whose body is now being operated by a computer, with very robotic movements that never feel unnatural. He also has the difficult task of having his facial expressions be completely detached from what his body is doing during his gruesome fight scenes with various nefarious individuals, while also portraying Grey's humanity and helplessness. It's a performance that requires many skills and lots of concentration, and Marshall-Green exceeds all expectations; this film could not be what it is without his performance.

The result is also enhanced by Whannell's vision, as the writer/director, in tandem with Andy Canny's energetic editing and Jed Palmer's pulsating score, upgrades the film to far more than just another Black Mirror episode. Cinematographer Stefan Duscio also enhances the feature with his use of the color red, as it is a very prominent hue throughout the film (for obvious reasons). At the same time, it also evokes one of the greatest AI villains in cinematic history, HAL 9000, as does Simon Maiden, who voices the increasingly creepy and dangerous STEM. Although he keeps his delivery monotone from beginning to end, Maiden does an excellent job making you feel STEM's villainous side without changing a single octave of his voice.

Suffice to say, every level of this movie exceeds expectations and makes for a wild and fun ride. Finely crafted and with amazing performances across the board, Upgrade is a well executed vision from Whannell and another great entry in this new age of stylish action films. It will also make you wish Hollywood would take note of what is happening with these low-budget movies and be as bold and inventive with their bigger budget releases.

Upgrade releases June 29th, 2018 from Universal Pictures The film has an MPAA rating of R for strong violence, grisly images, and language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 40 min.

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