Saw writer Leigh Whannell’s sophomore effort as a director deserves to be seen by a bigger audience than it will. In a familiar future, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green, aka store brand Tom Hardy) struggles to avoid the technology that is overtaking society. His wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo), works at a robotics firm, has a self-driving car and loves their smart home. He uses his hands to rebuild vintage muscle cars. Then, the couple is devastated by a Death Wish-style act of violence that leaves Grey with no choice but to embrace a new technology called Stem (voiced by Simon Maiden). Now, Grey, who was confined to a wheelchair, can rumble like a Terminator, which is good, because naturally, he uncovers a conspiracy behind the crime that robbed him of his life.
Whannell confidently combines horror movie effects with a “Black Mirror” techno-fable that has not lost its sense of humor—think micro-budget Paul Verhoeven sci-fi satire. The production design is Blade Runner 2049 amazing, considering the budget. Grey’s horrified reactions when Stem uses his body to rip grown men to shreds is funnier than most mainstream comedies, and Marshall-Green’s performance is physically impressive.
Unlike many low-budget pulp flicks, Upgrade’s no-name cast is no liability. Sporting a horrific mustache and hairstyle that screams evil creep, Benedict Hardie evokes a skeezy Ryan Gosling as main baddie Fisk. It is rare that a movie conjures such strong video-game comparisons without also seeming like it would be better played than watched.