Upgrade: An Homage to 1980s Sci-Fi Thrillers

Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) in Leigh Whannell's UPGRADE, courtesy of BH Tilt.

Upgrade is a film that, like James Cameron’s The Terminator before it, shows that humankind is perhaps a bit too dependent on technology.

There may be elements of violence but Upgrade isn’t the all-out horror type of film that we’ve come to expect from writer/director Leigh Whannell.  There may be some bloody elements given Grey Trace’s (Logan Marshall-Green) new abilities that come from having an upgrade on his body.  This is a film that’s full of thrills at every corner.

After Grey lays witness to the death of his wife, Asha Trace (Melanie Vallejo), at the hand of some upgraded thugs, he’s essentially left for dead.  Paralyzed due to a spinal injury, Grey is forced to travel by way of an electronic wheel chair.  He is not having any of it.  Who could blame him?!?  Enter billionaire inventer Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) with the answer to Grey’s prayers but there’s a catch.  Eron offers him the use of Artificial Intelligence device called STEM.  The implant would allow Grey to regain the use of his hands and legs but it would have to be limited to the comfort of his own home as nobody can know about it.

What does Grey do the moment that he gets the use of his limbs back?  He sets out a plan for vengeance.  It turns out that STEM (voiced by Simon Maiden) isn’t just any ordinary AI but capable of just about anything.  Grey is essentially a super soldier as a result of the implant.  As Detective Jane Cortez (Betty Gabriel) does her investigation, STEM has a mind of its own as Grey looks over the video evidence from the night that his wife had died.  This places both Cortez and Grey on two converging paths with two different ideas in mind for how to assert justice.

It’s a far cry from the films that viewers typically expect to see from Whannell and this viewer, who is no fan of the horror genre, is grateful.  Whannell takes the spirit of those classic sci-fi films of the 1980s and early 1990s into the message of Upgrade.  These were the films that changed the genre forever.  It’s not so much an homage in the classical sense as it was a very different world some 30 years ago.  If anything, the film makes us ask just how much trust do we place in these small computers that we carry daily in our palms.  Perhaps it’s a bit too much trust!

An homage to the 1980s sci-fi action thrillers but made for the 21st Century, Upgrade shows why we shouldn’t place our faith in the hands of technology.

CAST:  Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson, Benedict Hardie

Premiering in the Midnight program of the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, BH TILT will release Upgrade on June 1, 2018.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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