Second Sight: The Grim Future of Upgrade

A post-cyberpunk nightmare, Leigh Whannel's Upgrade is a back alley guilty pleasure that breaths venomous life into a languishing genre.  An inverted Knightrider or prolonged episode of Black Mirror conjured from the bottom of a 5-dollar Walmart bin, this is a stylishly realized dissent against a world becoming more and more distanced from its humanitarian origins.  Featuring jaw dropping sequences of brutal violence, a scathing undercurrent of black humor, and an uncompromising narrative, this is the first genuine surprise of 2018. 

Grey is a hands-on mechanic who eschews the technological delights of the near future, working on custom auto jobs for the wealthy.  In the wake of a tragedy, Gray is surgically joined with a self-aware computer who aids him in hunting down his transgressors while simultaneously challenging his concept of free will.  One of the best aspects of Whannel's script is that the viewer is instantly immersed in a used-up future incarnation of America.  The cybernetic augmentations are seamlessly woven into the story, thankfully without exposition, and the yield is a gritty, neo-noir environment that is both alien and familiar.  The bars are grimy, the labs sterile, and the world itself is harsh and devoid of real connection.  This is a dangerous, inhospitable urban sprawl that would make William Gibson smile and Upgrade double downs on this concession.  There are secret armies, unspoken criminal codes, and dystopian privacy invasions littered throughout Whannel's feverish playground and everything works in tandem to deliver a sly refutation of a fully technological world, a future that we're one breath shy of witnessing.


Logan Marshall-Green does an excellent job as Grey, but he is overshadowed by the disembodied malignancy of STEM, voiced by Simon Maiden. It is as if Her and Johnny Mnemonic gave birth to an Alexa antichrist and, despite the limitations of its budget, it works at every turn, deftly blending insanely brutal combat sequences with grating satire.  Stefan Duscio's lavish cinematography is a highlight, capturing each fight scene with a kinetic sense of pageantry.  Every punch is sickening, every wound is egregious.  The spitfire editing enhances the mayhem, culminating in a pulpy mashup of adrenaline fueled antics and music video compositions. 

Whannel's world of violent intent is fully realized.  This is the reality we, collectively deserve, soon to be dominated by unseen electronic entities whose concept of human agency is pointedly malicious.  The wonder lies beneath the schlock filled veneer of corroded speakeasies and faux-baroque sanctums of excess.  If Blade Runner is a high art concept, Upgrade is a street level nightmare and the implications are wonderfully, horrifically sublime.  A self-contained parable on the dangers of innovation, played out through a blood tinged vendetta, this is not to be missed.


In theaters now, there is something to be said about the merits of unexpected treasures.  The box office is drowning in mega budget offerings, and despite the realities of an industry in distress, Whannel's outstanding effort defies all odds.  Soiled, abrupt, and absolutely nasty, Upgrade is an essential viewing experience for connoisseurs of films that are conceived beneath the floorboards of traditional studio offerings.  Ridiculous, physics challenging action sequences and a brutally simplistic story are the ingredients, a high-octane action experience is the main course. 

-- Kyle Jonathan