Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade is a chilling and taut thriller/body horror about one man’s pursuit for truth after his wife’s death. The issue here is that he has been paralysed in the same incident that killed his wife.
Grey Trace (Logan Marshall Green) is an anomaly in this future day and age: completely unaugmented by any of the many options and improvements that technology has enabled. Some would say stuck in the past (he still repairs and refurbishes old cars), others might call him a sceptic or draconian but he is happy to remain pure and unadulterated and enjoys the more retro things in life. His wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo) works for a technology firm, Cobolt, who specialise in human-computer augmentation.
An encounter between Grey and Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson), after a car refurbishing job, kick starts everything. Somewhat of a prodigy, Eron is the owner of rival tech firm Vessel and a shining light in the advancement of augmentation and technological innovation. On the way back from this meeting Asha and Grey are involved in a car crash and as if that wasn’t bad enough they are then subjected to a professional hit: Asha is shot and killed and Grey is paralysed from the neck down.
A life of needing help to do everything, and being reliant on the very technology that he is wary of, puts Grey on the edge and, after a failed overdose suicide attempt, Eron shows up at his hospital bed and offers him a way to regain control over his body by receiving an implant of his latest technology. In a case of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, this technology isn’t officially ratified as being safe for human use so bypassing the human trials required and all of the red tape means Grey gets this much-needed revolutionary chip implanted into his spine but he must also keep this a secret and retain his wheelchair and the pretence that he is still a quadriplegic. The effect of the STEM chip is almost instantaneous as Grey miraculously recovers full movement with no issues at all.
With the police investigation into the incident hitting a brick wall, Grey starts his own investigation and it is here that he first gets introduced to STEM which begins as voice in his head via vibrations created on his eardrum and just a peek at some of STEMs abilities such as heightened visual awareness and perfect recollection. This assistance of STEM gives them a lead that they can use to leverage more information on the rest of the gang.
Upgrade plays out really well as an investigative thriller. As the story unfolds and we learn piece by piece about this situation, at the same time as seeing how much deeper Grey gets into the mire, the tension and stressful situations mount up. Becoming more and more frantic as it reaches its conclusion. Throughout there are really kinetic and inventive action sequences combined with some excellent camerawork give Upgrade a bit more of an edge. The intriguing plot and seemingly procedural investigation is slowly revealed and then taken apart and really does put you on the edge of your seat once it all starts to come together then it continues to pick up the pace and ratchet up the tension towards the conclusion.
Filmed with the grittiness of a low-ish budget film, but with the high-tech surrounding and permeating everything Upgrade feels like a fresh take on the crime thriller genre coupled with unadulterated gore, violence, technological craziness and an excellent ending put Upgrade high up my list for the best of this year.