The new thriller from Leigh Whannell, the co-creator of “Saw” and “Insidious,” is part ripped-from-the-headlines, part “Twilight Zone.” News outlets are reporting on the trend of implanting microchips to function as contactless credit cards and key cards in humans. Whannell took that premise, ran it through the RodSerling-izer™ and added a dollop of “RoboCop” to come up with a silly and sentient piece of sci fi.
Set sometime in the near future “Upgrade” sees mechanic Grey Trace (Logan Marshall Green), an “unaugmented” man in an increasingly augmented world. Microchips and other human upgrades are common, but Grey is old fashioned, favoring humanity over any kind of mechanization. In a world of self-driving cars and “energy walls” he’s a DIY guy. When four strangers murder his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) and leave him a quadriplegic he is wheelchair-bound and depressed until he is offered a unique opportunity.
One of his former clients, tech wizard Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson), offers to implant a chip called STEM, kind of an auxiliary brain, into Grey’s spine. The bio mechanic enhancement would leave him “ungraded, better, stronger and faster than everyone else,” and, of course, in perfect shape to get bloody revenge on the men who killed his wife and shattered his life.
Like Whannell’s other movies “Upgrade” is a dark, atmospheric and grim film. Blood flows but so do ideas about our addiction to computers and what happens when machines start thinking for themselves. But don’t worry, it’s not that heady. Like all good idea-soaked sci fi b-movies, it’s more about engaging your gut with visceral, i.e. violent, action, and even some humour. It’s gutsy and gory futurist Cronenberg-esque body horror made interesting by the speed at which technology approaches some of the film’s ideas about biotechnology.
“Upgrade” becomes conventional when the police procedural subplot kicks in but until then it is B-movie fun.