Back­bone to the fu­ture…

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Leigh Whan­nell’s new fu­ture-dis­quiet­ner.


Glossy, VFX-heavy, high-bud­get sci­ence-fic­tion block­busters fea­tur­ing global peril are all very well in to­day’s mul­ti­plex mar­ket. But view­ers of a cer­tain age likely har­bour a hunger for the kind of dingy, mus­cu­lar B-movies that used to play the lo­cal fleapit or pop up on the shelves of their cor­ner video shop. Y’know, stuff like The Ter­mi­na­tor, The Hid­den (1987) and all those early Cro­nen­berg body hor­rors.

Up­grade ran­sacks those by­gone clas­sics to imag­ine a near-fu­ture that looks much like ours (it saves money that way) bar a few more drones buzzing the night skies and some smart cars glid­ing along the sodium-lit streets. Our hero, Trace Grey (Lo­gan Mar­shall-Green), is the kind of ana­logue guy who also be­longs in the

’80s, fix­ing up mus­cle cars for a living and sell­ing them to tech bil­lion­aires like Eron (Har­ri­son Gil­bert­son).

It’s Eron who of­fers sal­va­tion when Trace and his wife Asha (Me­lanie Vallejo) are bru­tally robbed, re­sult­ing in Asha’s death and Trace wak­ing up in hos­pi­tal to the prospect of spend­ing the rest of his life as a quad­ri­plegic. Or at least the next 10 min­utes of screen time, un­til Eron un­veils a metal roach named Stem that he sur­gi­cally im­plants into Grey’s spinal col­umn to jump-start his limbs. Only Stem also likes to whis­per sug­ges­tions into Grey’s tor­tured mind, en­cour­ag­ing him to track down his mug­gers and rub them from the face of the Earth in all sorts of glo­ri­ously vi­o­lent ways.

Writer/di­rec­tor Leigh Whan­nell, of course, knows all about un­leash­ing a slew of grue hav­ing co-scripted the first three Saw movies (he also wrote the first three chap­ters of the In­sid­i­ous fran­chise, and di­rected the third). Here, he also re­veals that he knows a thing or two about stag­ing jaw-drop­ping (lit­er­ally, in one scene) fight se­quences. “I need your per­mis­sion to op­er­ate independently,” Stem says in a voice ev­ery bit as calm as HAL’s mono­tone, and then, per­mis­sion granted, pi­lots Trace’s limbs with ruth­less econ­omy. It’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing to watch, and made amus­ing too by Trace’s down­turned eyes in a static head – they price­lessly widen as they watch this newly lethal body go to work.

Mar­shall-Green, in fact, is some­thing of a rev­e­la­tion, sug­gest­ing that his own ca­reer de­serves an up­grade; he’s a whole lot bet­ter than most of the ma­te­rial that’s come his way over the last 15 years. Maybe it’s be­cause he looks like a knock-off Tom Hardy that he’s pre­vi­ously been sold short. Here, that rather fits Up­grade’s Xerox ef­fect, given that Whan­nell flaunts his in­flu­ences while still mak­ing a movie good enough to stand tall on its own con­sid­er­able mer­its. Jamie Gra­ham

thE VER­DiCt

A retro sci­ence-fic­tion ac­tioner with both brains and brawn – quite a lot of brawn, ac­tu­ally. Surely des­tined for cult sta­tus.

Dream­ing of the day they could af­ford those fi­nal pan­els for the bon­net. CER­TIFI­CATE 15 DI­REC­TOR leigh whan­nell STAR­RING lo­gan mar­shall-green, Har­ri­son gil­bert­son, me­lanie Vallejo, si­mon maiden SCREENPLAY leigh whan­nell DIS­TRIB­U­TOR Uni­ver­sal RUN­NING TIME 100 mins

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