Home Horror SubgenresGore [SXSW Review] ‘Upgrade’ Is a Searingly-Cool, Brutal Sci-Fi Gorefest

[SXSW Review] ‘Upgrade’ Is a Searingly-Cool, Brutal Sci-Fi Gorefest

by Trey Hilburn III

I habitually follow whatever director/writer Leigh Whannell is up to. He has a trusted lineup of films out there, ranging from Saw to Insidious that I’ve always enjoyed. The really cool thing about this guy is that he innately feels like one of us. Just a regular ole horror fan. So, it’s par for the course that I was all aboard his latest sci-fi, horror, action film, Upgrade.

Upgrade is the first culmination of Blumhouse and Neon under the name of “Blumhouse Tilt.” I wasn’t sure where we were gonna go from there. Neon has done a lot of cool stuff in their own right, while Blumhouse has a primarily paranormal background. The peanut butter and sandwich that these two houses managed to make is a beast entirely up my alley. I say peanut butter, but Upgrade is more like peanut butter and jelly with a little bit of ecstasy sprinkled on top.

The film follows, Grey Trace after he and his girlfriend are savagely attacked leaving Grey, paralyzed from the neck down. When he is offered a chance at a normal life again by means of a microchip implant called Stem, he takes the opportunity. Once Stem is implanted, Grey begins hearing Stem talk to him, asking for control over his Grey’s body to assist in finding the dudes responsible for the attack.

Upgrade has a really cool ability to swerve in and out lanes that are made of the hilarious and over the top fun and can easily swerve back to the heavy hitting emotional stuff. This is the most Whannell film I have seen from him. This one feels like his voice more than previous work and I’m here for it.

Logan Marshall-Green plays Grey Trace and the guy seriously brings all aspects of the gambit. He can go from the emotional bits to the bloody bits in .5 seconds before coming back and hitting us with those heavy moving gut punches. Without giving too much away, I gotta say… Green is a badass on the levels of a melding of The Terminator and John Wick.

Upgrade is an indie film that manages to feel larger. It’s bridging the gap between an indie horror film and a kick-ass big action film. That bridge is where the undeniable charm of the film lay. It’s accomplishing big strides within its indie heart. I also really like that the film is obviously making an allgeroy about where we currently are with technology and the dangers of where that could lead. What Upgrade does really well with that, is how it doesn’t ever get pretentious or preachy with that message. Its got the message in there but it can also just be a fun action flick to have beer and pizza with.

I was taken completely by surprise by this one. It played as a midnight film at SXSW on the night of the daylight savings switch. As its establishing its characters and narrative I ordered a coffee to stay awake. Little did I know that I wasn’t gonna need that coffee because the action scenes that this movie shoves into your synapses is a speed-ball of action. After the first (and unexpected) fight scene broke out, I was up in my chair, laughing and cheering at the badassery of every aspect of how cool Whannell made these fight scenes look and feel.

One fight that highlights a kitchen knife being used on a badguy essentially turning him into a mangled PAC-Man, set the tone for the film and had the entire crowd cheering and cracking up.

Upgrade is a cool movie. It’s Ghost in the Shell by way of Cronenberg serving that is somehow wrapped in a Terminator exterior. It’s filled with intense, brutal action heightened by a substantial amount of awesome gore. This movie is seriously my jam and a great first outing by the folks at Blumhouse Tilt.

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