Release Date(s)2018 (August 28, 2018)
Studio(s)Blumhouse Productions/OTL Releasing (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: F
Leigh Whannell, the writer and director of Upgrade, first exploded onto the pop culture radar by writing and starring in Saw back in 2004. Saw was based on a simple, super low-budget concept: stick two people in a room with a dead guy and a tape recorder and see what happens. While that film went on to have six(!) sequels, Whannell mainly turned his attention to the Insidious series, all of which were also low-budget with a huge box office return. Upgrade seemed primed to be more of that same winning formula, but with a $5 million dollar budget and a return of only $11 million, this was not to be.
In an undisclosed future (30 years from now? 40?), Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) has his life turned upside-down when he is paralyzed by a gang of men who also kill his wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo), after they’re involved in a horrifying car accident. Grey is approached by reclusive tech billionaire Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson), who offers him STEM, a computer chip that is to be implanted into his spine to help him regain movement, on the condition that he keep it a secret from everyone – even his own caretaker mother. Grey agrees, but soon discovers that STEM is much more than a rehabilitation device and decides to use this opportunity to hunt down the men who killed his wife. What he doesn’t realize, however, is he isn’t the only one who’s been upgraded.
There is a lot to like about Upgrade. It’s a competent sci-fi actioner with good performances and production values that nullify its fairly low price tag. It definitely borrows a lot of elements from other films, not the least of which is Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Watching Marshall-Green’s expressions of astonishment at how easily he dispatches bad guys in gory fashion is a lot of fun. The only place he falls flat is when he is called upon to emote his grief over the loss of his wife. You can’t help but idly wonder how Tom Hardy (for whom Marshall-Green has an unnerving resemblance) would have handled these scenes. Of course, Hardy has Venom coming out later this year, which seems to share a lot in common with Upgrade regarding the notion of a protagonist being controlled by a greater intelligence.
Naturally, there’s also a police detective (Betty Gabriel) who suspects that somehow Grey is involved in the killings of the men responsible for his wife’s death, but how could he since he’s a quadriplegic in a wheelchair? Gabriel as detective Cortez gives what is easily the most realistic performance in this revenge fantasy, while Gilbertson as Keen is uneven at best. The main bad guy, Fisk (Benedict Hardie), has a weasel-ish vibe that plays well, especially when he sneezes out microscopic blades that sneak into people’s noses and up into their brains, dicing them up in the process.
Upgrade was shot digitally with Alexa Mini and Arri Alexa XT cameras in the ARRIRAW codec (3.4K) with Panavision lenses. The theatrical aspect ratio was 2.35:1, but it has been slightly altered for Blu-ray to 2.39:1. Sound options include English 5.1 DTS-HD, Spanish and French 5.1 DTS Digital Surround, and a Descriptive Video Service track. There are also subtitles available in English SDH, Spanish, and French for the deaf and hearing impaired. Overall, detail is good, but the presentation sometimes struggles with color. The deep blacks, reds, and purples that worked so well in the theater strain for accurate representation on disc. The sound mix is effective, with active bass and precise division of ambient sound and dialogue. This is a film that benefits from being played loud, especially during the action scenes and the car accident at the beginning. There are also absolutely no extras on this disc. Zero. An ironic decision for a movie called Upgrade.
When I saw Upgrade in the theater earlier this year, I was surprised and disappointed to see how few people were there with me. It’s a solid, smart sci-fi film with clever twists and a fun concept. Also, the gory death scenes play out with a certain amount of glee on the part of the filmmakers. Maybe it will find a wider audience on video; if it does, it definitely deserves better treatment on home video in the future.
- Jason Crane