Upgrade (2018) [FrightFest Film Festival 2018]

Technology has taken over most aspects of life with human function seemingly being the last realm it needs for full assimilation.  After an attack, Grey Trace finds himself widowed and quadriplegic.  In order to find how did this to his wife and himself, he is willing to go to great lengths and risks.

Writer/director Leigh Whannell takes the near-future and gives it a technological boost, one that is not looking so impossible anymore, on that takes sci-fi and makes it believable on most fronts which helps create a sense of normalcy for the viewer before things go further and further in the sci-fi side of things.  Here Whannell creates a mostly realistic science-fiction world for his lead to live and evolve in.  The way the story and science-fiction elements are built upon gradually creates a world that is not so different at first, but definitely futuristic, and everything added on takes it from futuristic to flat out sci-fi.  The characters Whannell adds inside this world are believable, particularly the lead of Grey Trace who is stuck in the past and thus makes an easy connection to the story for the viewer as they can relate.

Playing this lead of technophobe Grey Trace is Logan Marshall-Green who does fantastic work with a character that goes from one extreme to the other pretty quickly.  He takes everything thrown at him and assimilates it in a way that feels organic and logical.  His performance anchors the film in that he is the lead but also is the closest character to the current day viewer.  His performance shows range and nuances as he goes from defeated to determined and goes through everything in-between.  His performance is not only central to everything in the film, it eclipses everyone else’s.  Working closely with Marshall-Green while not actually being human is Simon Maiden who voices stem, the implant helping Grey regain autonomy and much more, Maiden gives a performance somewhere between Pierce Brosnan on The Simpsons and Paul Bethany’s in the first two Iron Man films.  His character is unseen as a being and has a non-human, non-biological representation, nonetheless is speech, tone, and variations give Stem more and more personality as the film advances.  His work is very precise and subtle.  These two together create the central character and relationship of the film and thus the main point of interest acting-wise.  The cast as a whole does well here with besides Marshall-Green and Maiden, Betty Gabriel as Cortez, Harrison Gilbertson as Eron, and Melanie Vallejo as Asha race catching the attention in positive ways.

One thing that makes the film truly stand-out is the team work of the cinematography by Stephan Duscio with the film editing by Andy Canny.  The way scenes, action scenes in particular, are shot fits the film’s tone and the scene’s content.  The fight sequences are done in a way that adds dynamic energy to them, their cinematography and editing working with the fight choreography by Chris Weir and team and its performance on screen.  The film’s look and rhythm adapts to each scene while staying cohesice throughout.

Part of Upgrade’s distinct look is all the futuristic, yet grounded aspects from technology from décors to the effects.  The art direction by Mandi Bialek-Wester with assistant art director Phoebe Roberts comes together with the production design by Felicity Abbott and the set decoration by Katie Sharrock to bring together a look that is both easy to identify and futuristic, something that helps connect with the viewers through familiarity and comfort while setting the film’s era apart, putting it squarely in the near-future.  It is science-fiction but one that is easily believable form the get-go, something that helps immerse the viewer into the story’s world before it truly takes off.  To go with all of this, the special effects and visual effects done under special effects supervisor Angelo Sahin, special effects coordinator Katherine Mitropoulos, and visual effects coordinators Liam O’Kane and Syna San all enhance the film, its action, and its futuristic side without overtaking scenes and sequences.  It blends in well with the rest of what is on the screen and does fantastic work at helping create the futuristic look of the film.

Upgrade is a fun action-filled science-fiction film that may make some think about how much technology one really needs while entertaining them.  It’s well-built, well-acted, and visually looks fantastic.  The fight sequences have a great dynamic that should keep action fans happy while believable science-fiction fans should be happy with the road taken here.  Upgrade is not a typical, run-of-the-mill technology run amok film, it does use a few of the sub-genre’s tropes but what is around them is fun, original, and greatly entertaining to watch.  It’s build with care and it shows, something not all films of its type can claim.