UPGRADE **** USA 2018 Dir: Leigh Whannell. 100 mins
Leigh Whannell’s second film as director (following the superior INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3) is a hard-edged slice of technophobic sci-fi in which budgetary restrictions work in the film’s favour and obvious thematic parallels to ROBOCOP and Cronenbergian body horror do not distract from its own sense of style and energy. Logan Marshall-Green offers a charismatic, physically challenging performance as a near-future mechanic crippled by a road accident and craving vengeance for his wife’s murder. He signs up for the revolutionary “Stem” technology, which allows him superhuman mobility and strength and begins to (politely) take control of his body and mind. Marshall-Green’s interactions with “Stem” provide a streak of welcome black humour typical of Whannell’s inspirations, particularly in the first gruesome kill he makes, while a clever riff on expectation has a scene of ultra-violence occurring largely off-camera because our hero looks away from the Stem-perpetrated horror. It could have been a shade tighter (a cop-on-the-case subplot feels a little ordinary), but the incidental details are strong and Whannell’s fondness for final act twists results in a familiar but marvellously sour conclusion with strong echoes of bleak American sci-fi movies of the 1970’s. Most of all, it’s just refreshing to watch a smart, character-driven genre movie where the narrative isn’t constructed upon half a dozen strategically placed city-levelling CGI set pieces that will look dated within a year.
Review by Steven West