Short, sharp and shocking
Leigh Whannell is best known as the man who introduced the world to the Saw and Insidious franchises – penning the first three of the former’s instalments and all of the latter’s, while also directing the third Insidious flick.
He’s a writer-director firmly entrenched in horror but while there are elements of the genre within his second outing behind the camera, Upgrade veers more into sci-fi thriller territory.
Set in the “near future”, Logan MarshallGreen stars as Grey, a technophobe who is forced to turn to an experimental computer procedure called Stem when a traumatic incident leaves him wheelchair-bound.
What follows is a fascinating, clever cinematic experience that takes similar ideas presented elsewhere and gives them a fresh twist.
Just when you think you’ve got it pegged as a Death Wish-style revenger with a technological edge, Whannell’s script veers off into unexpected paths.
It’s difficult to go into too much detail about what makes Upgrade work so well without entering spoiler territory, but rest assured you’ll have a lot of fun watching it.
Ever since being wowed by Marshall-Green in excellent 2015 psychological thriller-drama The Invitation, I’ve been awaiting his big-time break; but while he briefly popped up in SpiderMan: Homecoming – and prior to The Invitation was part of Prometheus’ ensemble – this is his first real crack at leading man status.
And boy, has Whannell given him plenty to work with; outstanding physicality sees Grey channel Jason Bourne, The Matrix’s Neo and Robocop, and Marshall-Green also handles the emotional side of things expertly.
Following his invasive procedure – which is classic, Cronenberg-like body horror – Grey has no control over his limbs and literally hears voices in his head; in turns terrifying and exciting for his crusade for revenge.
Simon Maiden (The Dressmaker) lends his dulcet tones to Stem who becomes a living entity within Grey; it’s a creepily calm vocal performance.
Whannell is obviously no stranger to gore and there are several striking bursts of violence, with the Australian also using hyperactive, rapid-fire camera shots when Grey unveils his own brand of justice – whether he likes it or not.
The future setting isn’t a million miles away from the world we currently live in, save for driver-free cars and more drones than we’re used to seeing in the skies... oh, and guns forged within limbs!
The script plays on the working man’s fear of technology putting people out of a job and the lengths you would go to turn your life back around.
A mature ending rounds things off in surprising fashion and is a fitting climax to a short, sharp and shocking flick that establishes Whannell as no one-trick horror pony.
Testing time Grey and wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) in Upgrade