Upgrade ★★★

"Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade opens with a computerized voiced announcing its various production companies, before then cutting to a garage where Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is listening to Albert King on vinyl while tinkering with the muscle car he’s rebuilding. It’s a blunt collision of sonic and visual textures that efficiently frames this piece of futuristic speculative fiction as a battle between a dying analog world and a digital world dominated by self-driving cars, smart houses, and cyborg technology.

Upgrade overplays its hand a bit in its handling of this duality by partnering Marshall-Green’s old-school handyman with a wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo), who’s not only a hotshot in the tech field but also fills their home with the very technology that Grey appears to despise. But in a fairly swift manner, Whannell gives us a sense of both Grey’s love for his wife and his fear of technology. And this early world- and character-building pays off quickly once, following an accident involving a malfunctioning self-driving car, Asha is killed and Grey is left completely paralyzed, lending an emotional gravitas to the grieving husband’s hunt for the group of thugs who gunned her down.

The real hook of Whannell’s narrative is revealed soon after in the form of an experimental technology called Stem, designed by a reclusive genius, Eron (Harrison Gilbertson), who uses Grey as a human guinea pig. As Grey adjusts to the advantages and quirks of this freshly installed technology, he not only discovers that Stem communicates with him in an Alexa-like voice that only he can hear, but can also temporarily block pain receptors and allow for a full-body override where the supercomputer takes over Grey’s motor functions and can move his body at absurdly and inhumanly quick speeds. It’s here that Upgrade announces its allegiance to the technophobic nihilism of Black Mirror, though it serves up its cautionary tale with a schlocky blend of dark humor, breakneck action, and unsettling body horror."

Read the rest of my review over at Slant Magazine.

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