DIR/WRI: Leigh Whannell • DOP: Stefan Duscio • ED: Andy Canny • MUS: Jed Palmer • DES: Felicity Abbott • PRO: Jason Blum, Kylie Du Fresne,Brian Kavanaugh-Jones • CAST: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilberston, Benedict Hardie, Melanie Vallejo, Simon Maiden
Leigh Whannell first found success with b-movie horror game-changer Saw (2004). Saw became a revelation within its genre and was the launching pad for the much derided ‘Torture Porn’ sub-genre. The film was directed by his friend and fellow Aussie James Wan. Following the massive success of Saw, the pair collaborated on three more films, Dead Silence (2007), Insidious (2010) and Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013), Wan as director; Whannell as writer. All were commercially successful films released to varying critical reviews. Wan’s career has sky-rocketed, helming both Conjuring films (2013, 2016), Fast and Furious 7 (2015) and Aquaman, which will be released in December of this year. One can’t help but see Whannell as a McCartney to Wan’s Lennon.
Whannell himself has made the transition to director with Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015), which was received poorly by critics. With Upgrade, his second directorial effort, Whannell has taken a little side-step from horror into the realms of techno-thriller, although his penchant for gore is still readily apparent.
Quite like a feature-length Black Mirror (2011-) episode, Upgrade is set in the not-too-distant future. Technology has taken over, autonomous cars, houses that speak to you and tend to your every need- cooks meals, tells you when you are out of eggs, orders the shopping, etc. Our protagonist, Grey (Logan Marshall-Green), is a self-confessed technophobe. The first shot we get in the film is that of a record-player. Grey listens to classic rock as he fixes a now vintage automobile- one that requires a human to drive it. He has found a little niche for himself, fixing-up these cars and selling them on to fellow motor-purists. His wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo), has fully embraced the all-encompassing technology in this futuristic world. There differing philosophies on this brave new world doesn’t get in the way of the love they have for each other.
Unfortunately, in a reserve Ghost (1990) type scenario, Asha is slaughtered senselessly in the street, Grey is left paralysed from the neck down, grieving and out for revenge. Ironically it is a ground-breaking technology created by hermit/tech-genius, Eron (surely a play on Elon), that allows him to pursue his blood-lust.
That’s enough of plot. Upgrade is a film conflicted within itself. It wants to eat its cake and have it too. Sometimes it has b-movie sensibilities, others times Whannell stretches for the heady sci-fi heights of Blade Runner (1982). It’s a melodrama, and then it’s a comedy. The humour in the script takes over in the second act and seems to come from nowhere – very off-putting. The dialogue is too clunky and terribly obvious, at one point Grey actually says the line ‘I got you, you sons-of-bitches’, there are many other examples. The acting is poor, especially from the Harrison Gilbertson (a Dane deHaan look-a-like) who plays the villain of the piece, Eron. Melanie Vallejo and Logan Marshall-Green do not escape unscathed either. They cannot quite carry over the script’s tonal imbalances. A female cop, played by Betty Gabriel, is nothing more than a thinly drawn stereotype.
Whannel leaves himself open for a sequel.This reviewer will not be in a rush to see it.