Director: Leigh Whannell
Writer: Leigh Whannell
Stars: Logan Marshall-Green, Melanie Vallejo, Steve Danielsen
Editor’s Note: This review was written in 2018 and was originally posted to Garrett’s Letterboxd account.
I had the opportunity to see a screening of Upgrade with a quick Q&A with writer/director Leigh Whannell beforehand. He name dropped Paul Verhoeven and David Cronenberg as inspirations, and you can definitely see that in the final product. The lightly pop-tarty lighting, extreme gore, and sort of man vs. goons narrative are all evocative of Robocop, Scanners, and Total Recall. Even it’s vision of the future seems more inspired by what we thought the future would look like in 1980’s; just with updates to the kinds of technology we would have, like drones.
And the result is a pretty solid midnight movie. Upgrade has a lot of inventive action that I’m really not sure how they accomplished. I would love to see some behind the scenes on how they manipulated the camera, or perhaps the frame itself in post, to achieve the look of these sequences. Not only is it a fresh, creative approach to shooting a fight—it’s really effective. They felt fluid and easy to digest, and they left the actors in the frame as much as possible so we could see that they were really performing the choreography.
It’s also a surprisingly brutal and gory movie, but all in that sort of hyper-extreme style from the 80’s. Built on practical models and blood splatter, that has a fun, cartoonish feel to it. It gives the whole thing a sort of grindhouse vibe, and Upgrade is at it’s best and most entertaining when it explodes into that mayhem.
The cast is clearly having a ball in this as well. Betty Gabriel gets to do a bit of cat-and-mouse with Logan Marshall-Green and she digs into it; chews on it a bit making it really fun. Benedict Hardie really stood out to me as one of the goons; he just felt like he came straight out of an 80’s movie, not just in costuming but with his posture and slightly snarling superiority. I really loved what he was doing in this.
And Marshall-Green gives a really fun performance that is honestly pretty incredible. He is convincingly not in charge of his own body throughout some really intense fight choreography, most of which it appears he did himself. As the movie moves into its end game, it really asks a lot from him, physically and emotionally, and he sells it all. I was really impressed with him in this.
Overall I thought Upgrade was pretty fun. I think it could’ve used a bit more adrenaline throughout and excised some of the wheel spinning in the plot, but for a low-budget sci-fi actioner that is inspired by the midnight movie classics I grew up with, it achieves what it aspires to be in a big way I think.