by Greg Vellante

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday June 1, 2018


The gimmick of Leigh Whannell's "Upgrade" is that a man (Logan Marshall-Green), following an attack that leaves his wife dead and him a quadriplegic, has an experimental computer chip called Stem embedded into his nervous system. Stem grants Marshall-Green's awesomely-named Grey Trace the ability to regain control of his four limbs, but this mobility comes with a price: Stem is able to take control of Grey's body, first with his permission and eventually on its own accord. This creates a body horror tale that is at once entertaining, goofy and gasp-inducingly violent (the first big kill of the film managed to pull an audible "OOH!" out of the audience).

But there isn't too much beyond this gimmick, sadly, and "Upgrade" suffers due to an occasional lack of creative momentum. The film itself trucks along just fine with enough action and humor to keep the motor running, but writer/director Leigh Whannell seems to be struggling at times to find his footing in a genre that differs greatly from his work on horror franchises like "Insidious" and "Saw." Coming to us from Blumhouse Productions (a familiar partner of Whannell), the film marks a sharp contrast between much of the production house's filmography. And that's a good thing, and for the most part "Upgrade" proves its worthy starting point for Blumhouse's ambitions.

It really is a hell of a lot of fun, with Grey Trace the type of character you can root for, trapped in a scenario that is certainly familiar at times but is brought to new life through trope-twisting and cliché-killing. The fight scenes alone are worth the price of admission, zanily edited and carried out with a hyperkinetic energy that may leave you holding your breath until the violence abruptly ends with a shocking final note. The squeamish need not apply. "Upgrade" doesn't cut corners when it comes to bloodshed, and the violence is as gross as it is creatively visualized.

As for humor, "Upgrade" is as much a comedy as it is a body horror, with Trace and Stem (a polite AI voiced by Simon Maiden) swapping dialogue with the former usually incredibly frustrated and frantic. Marshall-Green handles the one-man show just fine, and his interactions with Stem reminded me of a kind of screwball version of Dave and Hal in "2001: A Space Odyssey."

"Upgrade" certainly lives up to its name by being a fun, refreshing take on a familiar genre. It shows that both Whannell and Blumhouse have new tricks up their sleeves and that Logan Marshall-Green has a big career ahead of him (unless he can't escape the fact that he looks eerily similar to actor Tom Hardy). It's a mixed bag at times and the shtick wears off a bit by the end, but "Upgrade" is a blast regardless.